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Excerpts: 'A Family Christmas'

'A Family Christmas'



Christmas is a holiday of hope. As children, we wait all year for the chance to wish for whatever we want most. Frequently, these wishes take the form of toys, but often we ask for more profound gifts, such as a reunited family or a world at peace. Children possess a spiritual curiosity that is sometimes underestimated or overlooked in the holiday hustle and bustle. Yet children ponder the mysteries of life and of faith that Christmas makes real. Later on, as parents, we reconnect with our own childhood sense of hope, reaffirm our faith, and recognize the power of love and family....

This book has been a gift to me. I hope it will give other families the chance to reflect on their own personal observances, as well as our shared heritage, and that they too will enjoy the chance to "keep Christmas" all year long.

Letter to Tommy, World War II

Lt. Col. Ralph Noonan,
Solomon Islands

December 25, 1943

Dear Tommy:
This is the second Christmas that I have had to be away from you and mother and I don't like it, Tommy. More than anything else in the world I would like to be with you and mother today. But I know that it is impossible. Let's hope that there will be lots of other Christmas Days when we can be together, when we can decorate your Christmas tree and set up a nice, big electric train right in the middle of the living room floor. Mother won't approve of the idea at first, but wait and see! In a short time she will be playing with our trains, too. Christmas this year will be celebrated in many strange lands by men who only a few years ago were little boys like you and under the palm trees of the Solomons, American boys will be celebrating Christmas. . . .

It is a strange background for an American Christmas; yet it is no stranger than the background of the very first Christmas. . . . Sometimes I think that one of the reasons why we are fighting this war is because we want to save Christmas; because we want to play on the floor with electric trains; because we want to be free to live as we want to. But Christmas should be more than just external things, Tommy. Christmas should be something that guides your life just like the Star of Bethlehem guided the shepherds that first Christmas morning. If you always make mother happy, if you help other people whenever you can, if you live so that you are always a credit to mother, your country and your god, then you can be part of the real Christmas every day of the year. Anybody who keeps the real Christmas inside of him every day can't help but be a good boy, Tommy. And good boys make good American men. Give mother a big kiss for me. Tell her that you and I love her lots. Let's all of us pray hard that we can be together again for next Christmas.

Bye, Tommy

Is There a Santa Claus?
("Yes, Virginia")

Francis P. Church,
Editor, The New York Sun

September 21, 1897

We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of THE SUN:

"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? "Virginia O'Hanlon. "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 external 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.

Excerpted from A Family Christmas by Caroline Kennedy. All Rights Reserved. Letter to Tommy, World War II, by Lt. Col. Ralph Noonan. "Is There a Santa Claus?" ("Yes, Virginia"), by Francis P. Church. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.

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Caroline Kennedy