During this season, tips for wellness abound in psychological literature. The loss of loved ones, family conflict, unnamed sadness and loneliness impact many people. Suggestion include: lower expectations, don’t overeat, stay in touch with people who truly care for you, volunteer, hold on to your identity, find stillness and quiet in the chaos of activities. Though these mindsets and behaviors can improve our wellbeing, sometimes there is a feeling of sadness that just stays. Are there ways to transcend it during this challenging period? Tips can help but certain cultural experiences might help as well. Becoming absorbed in a treasured or creative activity, as a participant or even as a spectator, can shift minds and elevate moods.
Films and literature often contain uplifting messages. For example, I recently saw a film (true story) about a financially bereft family facing the pressure to create a Christmas. As the dad and his daughter lay in the snow, he tells her to choose a star from the sky and make it her own as a present. The simple, creative gesture sparked positive emotion, curiosity and a connected feeling to both family and something higher.
So, rather than offer you more wellness tips, I have a story to share.
For almost 20 years, like many other Columbia University psychoanalysts, I had an office on New York City’s Upper West Side. Around the corner from my office, on 95st Street, was the birth home of Virginia O’Hanlon. In 1897, 8-year-old Virginia asked her father if there really was a Santa Claus. He suggested she ask the editor of a prominent newspaper, The Sun, edited by Columbia graduate Francis Pharcellus Church. According to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Church’s response to Virginia’s letter is the most reprinted editorial in history. I discovered it at Columbia’s Yule Log Ceremony, an annual event for students unable to return home for the holidays. The letter moves me every year and I share it with others as a seasonal ritual. I hope it moves you too.
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. 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. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.