No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

No newspaper columnist or commentator — whether as humble as yours truly or as famous as Andy Rooney — fails to admire Francis Pharcellus Church. On September 21, 1897, the New York Sun published an editorial under the headline “Is there a Santa Claus?” Church’s piece, responding to an inquiry by a little girl, began unforgettably, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” If you are too young to have encountered the column, you can read it, and all about it, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes,_Virginia,_There_is_a_Santa_Claus, which also offers a 1974 animated-cartoon version and an interview with the girl/woman who inspired Church.
Suffice to say, when I still believed in Santa, his home was the North Pole. Such modern classics as Chris Van Allsburgh’s The Polar Express, which became a Tom Hanks movie in 2004, agree with my geography. No matter: Santa had better plan to confine himself to Macy’s department store from now on. The North Pole is up for grabs and the land (ice?) rush is in full fettle.
According to a Time Magazine cover story, entitled “Fight for the Top of the World,” last week, “As global warming melts the Arctic ice, dreams of a short sea passage to Asia — and riches beneath the surface — have been revived.” Asks the news magazine, “With Russia planting a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole, Canada talking tough and Washington wanting to be a player, who will win the world’s new Great Game?”
If not Santa, who does own the North Pole? We Yanks have a claim. In 1909 American explorer Robert Peary, accompanied by four Inuit, planted the Stars and Stripes at the spot he believed to be the geographic pole. On April 7th, or perhaps later when preparing his expedition journal for publication, he penned, “The Pole at last!!! The prize of 3 centuries, my dream and ambition for 23 years. Mine at last.…” All the same, many scientists, historians and geographers now dispute Peary’s accomplishment.
By contrast, Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s 1912 claim of success is much more strongly supported by scientific measurements. Still, should planting a national flag entitle a single nation to the whole enchilada? This was once the way of it. The great Western powers — England, France, and Spain, even tiny Holland and Belgium, and later Germany and the U.S. — built vast empires in Africa, Asia and South America, not to mention Australia and the South Pacific. They all started with explorers planting their country’s flags on far-off beaches and mountaintops.
Those days are long gone, together with those European empires. Their chapter in World History 101 was slammed decisively shut the moment the last helicopter left the roof of the American embassy in Saigon in 1974. The few remaining tin-pot protectorates and island colonies hanging on today aren’t worthy of a mention here.
So how in the heck can anybody claim a floating mass of ice and snow at the top of the world? This seems to me to be as bad as the patenting of human DNA. Although such patenting proceeds apace, as does the scramble for the North Pole, opposition is building beside it. According to the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics, “For example, from 1993 to 1994, more than thirty organizations representing indigenous peoples approved formal declarations objecting to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) bid to patent viral DNA taken from subjects in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.” In 1995, 180 religious leaders led by Jeremy Rifkin held a Washington press conference opposing the practice. More recently the European Commission indicated it likely will oppose patents on human DNA.
At a time when Free Market Capitalism rules godlike over globalization, privatization, and outsourcing, everything seems up for sale. But, pendulums, Virginia, have a way of swinging. If Santa can’t have the North Pole all to himself, then perhaps it ought to be held in trust by the United Nations or some such international entity for the benefit of all of us. Maybe even the polar bears, which I hear are having a hard time of it as the ice cap shrinks, deserve our collective consideration.
Journalist Church — who wrote of Santa, “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus.” — would probably approve.
Jim Castagnera, formerly of Jim Thorpe, is the Associate Provost and Associate Counsel at Rider University and a 2007-08 Fellow of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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One Response to “No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus”

  1. Hard to believe Christmas is already around the corner!

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