No Wonder Miss O’Hanlon <br>Wrote to the New York Sun <br>Instead of the Times
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Yes, it’s true. The New York Times really did publish just before Christmas this year a piece mocking the Sun’s reply to Virginia O’Hanlon. Her father had suggested she write to the Sun inquiring about whether there really is a St. Nick. “Yes,” the Sun said, “there is a Santa Claus.”
Why the Times waited 117 years to jump on this beats me. The Times has this theory about newspapering called “ripeness.” It gets around to a story not when it happens but when it’s ripe. Then it noodles over the news until you want to scratch your brains out.
The Times’ attack on the Sun’s Santa Claus scoop is a classic. The Gray Lady’s editors know they can’t report with a straight face that there is no Santa Claus. No one would believe them. They’d be laughed out of town. So what do they do?
They hire a freelancer, Eric Kaplan, to attack the editorial writer of the Sun, Francis Pharcellus Church, who, in 1897, wrote the famous reply to Virginia’s letter. The Times suggests that when Church was covering the Civil War, he caught a case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“As a war reporter,” says the writer for the Times, “Church saw mass slaughter carried out in the name of unseen ideals. He needed to believe in fairies, but we may balk at his Victorian tone with its creepy veneration of childhood and high-toned glurge.”
High-toned glurge?! Which wordsmith of the Times would have come up with that doozy? Not Ross Douthat, Maureen Dowd or David Brooks. Anyhow, which Times column has been reprinted by their competitors every Christmas for 117 years?
And what’s with this psychiatry about how Frank Church “needed to believe in fairies”? He didn’t need anything (he was a newspaperman). He was making a point to little Virginia. “Not believe in Santa Claus!” he exclaimed. “You might as well not believe in fairies.”
Virginia understood plain English. Even an 8-year-old would have been grossed out by the Times’ assertion that the “sine qua non of Santa is that he brings Christmas gifts.” What a coarse libel. So is the Times’ suggestion that gift-giving “seems to wither under rational scrutiny.”
The Times cites the O. Henry story about the husband who sells his beloved watch to purchase for his wife “a comb for her beautiful hair, only to learn that she has sold her hair to a wigmaker in order to earn the money to buy him a fob for his watch.”
Such hapless lovebirds, the Times seems to reckon, should never have gotten married in the first place.
It goes on to puzzle over the possibility that “Santa belief is a worthwhile state to get ourselves into because it protects the practice of gift-giving against the onslaughts of utilitarian rationality.”
Is it even possible to believe in Santa? the Times wonders. Its first instinct is that this is possible “only” through “some sort of self-deception.” It offers the possibility of using “some combination of meditation techniques and psychoactive drugs to induce Santa belief.”
“Maybe,” its writer leers, “I could take psilocybin and have a group of my friends chant, ‘Santa exists! Santa exists!’ while I am tripping my brains out.” Then he suggests “telling one another that Santa exists even though we know he doesn’t.”
“Parents do that to children,” the Times claims.
Speak for yourself, I say.
The Times’ writer seems to blanch at his own words. After the part about “covering up the cover-up” and something called a Cartesian myth, he fetches up with some “social scientist and philosopher” called Otto Neurath.
Out of which saloon the Times dragged him its writer fails to disclose, but Neurath has some theory about rebuilding a boat while it’s at sea. Maybe the Times reporter lost his notes with the part about how Santa travels not by boat but by sleigh.
Finally the Times gets around to its inevitable point — the self. “Each belief is the beginning of a voyage of self-discovery,” it blathers. All I can say is that Virginia O’Hanlon’s father was no dummy.
He knew what he was doing when he told his daughter to write to the Sun. Who knows what might have happened had she written to the Times.
This column originally appeared in the New York Post.