It’s December and you know what that means – clichéd Christmas specials! They are all filled with the same idea that the holiday is meant to be about love and helping one another, and. This same story has been around for at least a hundred years, as demonstrated by Jacob Riis’s 1904 book Is There a Santa Claus? Despite how predictable and corny it was, I found myself beaming like a child.
The book opens with a letter from a little boy, asking if Santa was real. He discusses his belief of Santa being an idea instead of an actual person. The rest of the text is him reminiscing nice things that he has encountered while pondering the question. That’s about it. There’s no conflict and feels more like a personal essay, but it’s a brilliant personal essay. By seeing the kindness and pure joy of others, he concludes that Santa is an idea and how we envision him is just a disguise. Random fact – the disguise we know today wasn’t around when Is There a Santa Claus? was written. The image was created for a Coca Cola advertisement in the 1930s. Despite this example of consumerism, Rii’s story just brings out the Christmas spirit we admire, but don’t always have.
Even in 1904, this idea wasn’t exactly new. Francis Church’s editorial Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause was published seven years prior. However, I quickly read the editorial and feel like the book is stronger. I don’t want to go into why too much, but quickly reading the editorial made me appreciate the book even more. Just the title shows how Riis is more inclusive. By posing a question, he brings the children into a journey with him. Church, on the other hand, just explains it to the children. They both use a childish tone, as the target readers are in fact children, but Riis’s just sounded less patronising and more in touch with the human spirit. He didn’t focus on the use of fairies or the seeing versus believing concept like Church. Instead, he just focused on the magic of human beings.
The social interactions ranged from a strange cheerful man on the train to having the dinner with the Roosevelts and shows how Christmas effects each of them. People from different walks of life are all influenced by the heartwarming, sentimental Christmas spirit and how they return the feeling. I loved this bit because if it was focused on just one of them, I would have gotten bored more than I did. It also helped that it was a relatively short book. If it was any longer, the burst of Christmas jeer might have run out.
Despite how cheesy the story was, I’m giving it 7.4. It just made me feel happy, and that’s all I can ask for. If you’re not into this kind of stuff, it’s understandable. However, if this is your child’s year of discovering Santa’s non-existence, give them a copy of this to read. You can get it from Project Gutenberg for free. It might help their transition, but still leave them with a sense of optimism.
Discussion Point: What’s a cheesy holiday tradition or story that you adore?