One of the Letters to the Editor we received this past month really caught my attention. It was from a young reader. I’d like to share it with you here:
“Dear Editor: I am an 8-year-old student at Anderson Elementary. Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. One of my teachers says, ‘If you see it in The Trib, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth: is there a Santa Claus?”
It was signed by “Ginny H.,” who said she lived on Pinetree.
My initial reaction to the letter was just a pure sense of jubilation that an 8-year-old actually was reading (and writing to) a newspaper rather than doing Google searches or posting the question on Twitter. Once I stopped doing my happy dance, though, I suddenly got this odd sense of déjà vu that I had read that letter before.
But eventually that feeling subsided, and I set out on a mission to try and come up with a suitable answer. For years now I’ve been trying to get an interview with Santa Claus, but with no success. In fact, I’ve been beginning to wonder myself if the guy really does exist.
About 10 years ago the Trenton Civic Commission said it would get me an exclusive Santa interview at the conclusion of the annual Christmas Parade downtown. I was supposed to meet him at the Clock Tower at 7:30 p.m., just after he and Mrs. Claus got the key to the city from the mayor.
When I got over to the Clock Tower though, a couple of short guys with pointy striped hats and high-pitched voices told me that Santa had to rush back to the sleigh to do a conference call with his business manager and the people who do the tree-lighting at the White House, where he was supposed to be going the next day.
I couldn’t help thinking they were just making that up, but they made it sound convincing and one of the little guys handed me a business card and told me to call the number on Monday morning and they’d try and hook me up with Santa.
Well, I must have called 20 times that week, and I kept getting different excuses every time I called: “He’s in the workshop,” was one. “He’s out in the barn checking on the Reindeers,” was another. One time the person answering the phone claimed to be Mrs. Claus and said, “Sorry, sweetie, but Nicky is taking his nap right now.” She sounded like a really nice old lady, but I still felt kind of like I was getting the Santa shuffle.
I kept trying right up until my deadline that week, but it was no use. Santa wasn’t coming to the phone, regardless of how naughtily or nicely I asked.
My deadline came and went that year, and there was no interview and no story. The following year I tried the phone number again, but the person who answered referred me to Santa’s publicist in Los Angeles. The publicist asked me to submit my questions by email and she’d try and get me the answers. I said I really needed to do the interview in person, so I could get first-hand proof that Santa actually existed.
But she said, “I’m sorry, but that’s just not going to be possible. Santa is just far too busy. How about an interview with Tim Allen instead? He’s another one of my clients and he comes to Detroit frequently?”
“No,” I said. “Tim Allen has been interviewed by everyone around here. I want to talk to Santa.”
“Hon, it ain’t gonna happen. Sorry. ” she said, and hung up the phone.
Looking back on that whole episode, it was one of the greatest disappointments in my career in journalism. And, as you can probably tell, I’ve never fully gotten over it.
So, when I got Ginny’s letter, it inspired me to give it one more try. I have about 2,500 business cards I’ve collected through the years, so it took me a while to find the one that said simply, “North Pole,” with a special 14-digit phone number.
But find it I did!
The phone rang eight times before a heard a loud, firm voice say, “Hello.”
“I’d like to speak to Santa, please,” I said.
“Speaking,” came the reply.
I was speechless for a few seconds while my mind processed what I had heard.
“S-s-s-santa?” I said, “Is that really you?”
“Why, yes, yes, it’s me.”
I couldn’t believe it. Santa had answered the phone himself.
“What can I do for you, Joey? It’s been a while since I’ve heard from you. In fact, the last letter I got you asked for cassette tape recorder and a Polaroid camera. I understand you’ve gone through a lot of different tape players and cameras since then, haven’t you?”
Now, I was really amazed. Not only did Santa answer the phone, but he remembered what I asked for the last time I sent him a letter.
“Santa, how did you remember that?” I replied. “That was many, many years ago.”
He apparently found that pretty amusing.
“Ho, ho, ho,” he roared into the phone. “I’m Santa. It’s what I do.”
Now he had me laughing.
I told him about the letter from Ginny, and how she was looking for proof that Santa was real and not just some made up character like Sponge Bob or Kim Kardashian.
“Well,” Santa said. “You know you really can’t tell someone what to believe in.”
That wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping to hear. I was hoping Santa would give me some ironclad proof that I could share with the Trib’s readers and get Ginny the conclusive answer she was looking for.
“Nowadays people want us to believe all kinds of things,” Santa went on. “They tell us on the news every day that we are worse off than we were the day before. They predict one disaster after another and forecast 10 economic recessions for every one that actually occurs. They tell us about people who think the world is going to end next Christmas. Goodness gracious me, have you ever heard anything more ridiculous than that? But people believe it — or they’ll at least spend time worrying that it might actually happen.
“The only problem is that at least 90 percent of the bad things that are predicted never actually happen.”
I thought he definitely had a good point. But what did that have to do with proving that Santa is real?
“Joey, the point is people are going to believe what they want to believe. If they choose not to believe in me, I can’t stop them. But, if they stop believing in me it means they’ve gotten too caught up in the trap of negative thinking and have lost sight of the true spirit and meaning of Christmas.
“They have to realize that the spirit of Christmas doesn’t just start at midnight Christmas Day and end at 11:59 p.m. The spirit of giving needs to be eternal. It needs to be part of their daily lives.
“Those who can manage to do that will never doubt my existence.”
Convinced that I had the answer that both I and Ginny were seeking, I thanked him for his time and assured him I’d share this important information with our readers.
“Merrrrry Christmas,” he bellowed, trailing another strand of “ho, ho, ho’s” as he hung up the phone.
With my long-sought interview now complete, I finally have one up on both Barbara Walters and Larry King.
And, to quote a famous 1897 editorial by noted New York Sun newsman Francis Church, I can now conclusively say, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Joe Hoshaw Jr. is editor and co-publisher of the Trenton Trib. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 676-0850.