Lewiston Evening Journal

LEWISTON – “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Soon after the publication of Charles Dana’s famous response to 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who asked the New York Sun if there is a Santa Claus, the Lewiston Evening Journal asked members of the clergy to weigh in with their thoughts.

Essentially, the paper said, it was putting “the rosy old saint on trial.”

That was 125 years ago, but the answers the paper received, which took up nearly six full pages of newsprint, remain interesting.

Here’s a sample of the responses published under the headline “Shall Santa Claus Be Abolished?

Parson Solon Chase Turner Historical Society

Solon Chase, parson of the First Greenback and Sixteen-to-One Church in Chase Mills: “We can’t spare Santa Claus or Mother Goose.

“One of the first things to impress on the mind of the child is to show how beautiful life can be made on this earth. The story that Santa Claus leaves his home in Germany and travels by land and sea, and sometimes through the air and on skates across the Zuyder Zee, when the ice his weight would bear, and then takes ship to far America, propelled by 10,000 fairy power and brings delightful presents to good little boys and girls is more pleasant to the child’s mind than the Jonah story.


“Santa Claus is the soul of Christmas and he brings toys and trinkets, delightful little picture books and tales of Mother Goose, those things so pleasing to children, which make the task of learning the multiplication table easier.

“We cannot spare the jolly old saint. This world would be a barren waste without some fun.”

Rev. E.O. Thayer, presiding elder of the Portland district of the Maine Methodist Conference: “When Santa Claus or Christmas tree or any other relic of heathenism and superstition detracts from a child’s recognition of Christmas as a Christian holiday, great harm is done. The celebration of the day by fireworks and bacchanalian revels, as in some parts of our own country even, is degrading and scandalous.

“The innocent, smiling baby in the Bethlehem manger and the beautiful singing angels are in my opinion more appropriate pictures for the child-minded than the white, bearded fellow in rough clothes driving his reindeer over roofs and across mountains.”

A drawing of Santa Claus in 1897 in the Mexico Weekly Ledger in Missouri.

Rev. H.R. Rose of the Elm Street Universalist Church in Auburn: “The purists are extremists.

“I do not believe that any harm comes from the belief in Santa Claus or Kris Kringle shared by so many childish minds. My reason for this statement must be personal, based on my own experience.


“I was brought up to think there was a Santa Claus, and I used to think him the best fellow in the world and try to steal a glimpse of him on Christmas, even loved him, it is true, and appealed to him up the fireplace and tried to make him even more generous by begging the privilege of hanging my mother’s stocking instead of my own.

“The trouble with America is a growing lack of good, healthy myths. We know too much, or think we do, and are on the grade that leads to the death of imagination and the belief in the invisible.”

Rabbi Lazarus Druker of Portland: “The fact may be pointed out that the story of Santa Claus has been taught for several hundred generations and parents keep telling the story and yet it does not seem to have done much harm to morals or religion. Much more may be said on this question, but this seems to me to be sufficient to show the harmlessness of this little story.”

Rev. E.W. Ricker, pastor of the Pine Street First Baptist Church of Lewiston: “I see no reason for rejecting Santa Claus . . . a friend of children who brings presents on Christmas eve, filling with gifts the stockings hung by the chimney place to receive them. He is usually represented as a little, fat, jolly old man who rides over the roofs in a sleigh drawn by reindeer and descends chimneys.

“Proper parental instruction in the nursery will guard the mind of the child from any harm. The imagination of the child is very quick to understand that it is from parents or friends that they receive their gifts. I have just seen a letter from a little boy of six, addressed to dear Santa Claus, informing him what he would like for Christmas. The letter was given to his father.”

Rev. Charles Cutler of the First Congregational Church in Bangor: “As a boy in Farmington, Maine, I used to hear the story of Jacob Abbott, the friend of all boys, that the night before Christmas, after everybody had gone to bed, he would rake the ashes out on the hearth and with his own foot make the footprints of Santa Claus as he came down the chimney and went up again!


“Now the example of Jacob Abbott may be taken as pretty good authority.

“In my opinion, old Santa cannot be spared out of child-life. He fills just the place of the fairy story. There is a time in the child-life when the charm of the fairy story is a delight, or is lost forever. Soon enough it will ‘fade into the light of common day.’

I have no sympathy with the pragmatical parents who would rob childhood of all the mystery of the imagination. Thank heaven, they can’t, though they have none.”

George Chase, former Bates College president Muskie Archives, Bates College

George Chase, president of Bates College: “The best tests of the effects of any custom are, it seems to me, those afforded by experience. The world would be quite other to me than what it is if the happy memories of Christmas, as I knew it in my boyhood, were blotted out and all the joyful and tender associations of that blessed season were to wholly disappear.

“When I recall the Christmases of my childhood, I seem to feel again the simple pleasures of the world, unmarred by acquaintance with cold-heartedness, strife and bitterness. No memories bring back to me more potently the self-sacrificing love, the all-absorbing devotion of my father and my mother.

“I do not see how Santa Claus can be spared without irreparable loss to the admiration, love and hope by which we live. There is more truth in the sweet, poetic myth and finer educating sense of truth than in all the bald realities of blunt, unfigured fact.”


Rev. Asaph Wheeler of the Turner Street Advent Church in Auburn: “Hypocritical indeed must be the person who would rob childhood of this angel of the winter season. As long as babies are born, let his annual visits be recognized and applauded by every parent.

“What harm ever came from the myth? Every child discovers the facts and laughs with joy to think he did not know it before. None of us ever regret the stories told us about this old sage of the North Pole when we discover his mythical origin and home. We are glad to think that we did not learn of it before.

“With this world wading knee deep in fiction that is ruinous and damning to the moral and physical welfare of the youth, let us not strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

“Give childhood its chiefest joy – the advent of Santa Claus. Without him, we have no Christmas to celebrate. It is a historical fact that Christ was not born on the 25th day of December; therefore, let us hope that Santa Claus was, so that as we grow wiser we may not lose this brightest and best of our holidays.

“The myth blesses homes with joy, stimulates commerce in the winter season, increases friendships among the people, and harms no one. Let us, therefore, hold on to it a while longer.”

An illustration in December 1897 from the Meriden Weekly Republican in Connecticut.

E.H. Gerrish, president of the Lewiston YMCA: “When I was a boy, I used to believe implicitly in Santa Claus, bells, reindeer and all. But since I struck a skeptical world, I’ve had my doubts.”


Rev. Arthur Frey, pastor of the Second Congregational Church of Biddeford: “To teach the child to trust in this mysterious personage who brings good gifts is to teach the child his first lesson about the unseen, that first lesson being a lie.

“Let the child in later years discover the deception and how does his bewildered mind know but that God is a deception foisted upon him in the same way?”

Rev. John Kimball of the Universalist Church in Turner: “I believe the memories of childhood are sweeter to the child who has been brought up in an atmosphere where such a being as Santa Claus could live, than are memories to the child has been reared in so chill an atmosphere that even the idea of Santa Claus has frozen to death.

“The people who are afraid to allow the child a fiction, however innocent, for fear that it will pervert the moral nature of the child, may be good people, but I would rather they were somebody else’s father and mother than mine, wouldn’t you?

“The idea of Santa Claus is no falsehood, but a grand truth.”

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