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´╗┐Title: Is There a Santa Claus?
Author: Riis, Jacob A. (Jacob August), 1849-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: cover]



IS THERE A SANTA CLAUS?

[Illustration]



IS THERE A SANTA CLAUS?

[Illustration]

BY JACOB A. RIIS

[Illustration]

NEW YORK THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1922

_All rights reserved_



[Illustration]

          COPYRIGHT, 1904
          BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY


          SET UP AND ELECTROTYPED
          PUBLISHED OCTOBER, 1904
          REPRINTED DECEMBER, 1904
          REPRINTED NOVEMBER, 1912



IS THERE A SANTA CLAUS?


"DEAR MR. RIIS:

"A little chap of six on the Western frontier writes to
us:

          "'Will you please tell me if there is a Santa
          Claus? Papa says not.'

"Won't you answer him?"

That was the message that came to me from an editor last December just
as I was going on a journey. Why he sent it to me I don't know. Perhaps
it was because, when I was a little chap, my home was way up toward that
white north where even the little boys ride in sleds behind reindeer, as
they are the only horses they have. Perhaps it was because when I was a
young lad I knew Hans Christian Andersen, who surely ought to know, and
spoke his tongue. Perhaps it was both. I will ask the editor when I see
him. Meanwhile, here was his letter, with Christmas right at the door,
and, as I said, I was going on a journey.

I buttoned it up in my great coat along with a lot of other letters I
didn't have time to read, and I thought as I went to the depot what a
pity it was that my little friend's papa should have forgotten about
Santa Claus. We big people do forget the strangest way, and then we
haven't got a bit of a good time any more.

       *       *       *       *       *

NO Santa Claus! If you had asked that car full of people I would have
liked to hear the answers they would have given you. No Santa Claus!
Why, there was scarce a man in the lot who didn't carry a bundle that
looked as if it had just tumbled out of his sleigh. I felt of one slyly,
and it was a boy's sled--a "flexible flyer," I know, because he left
one at our house the Christmas before; and I distinctly heard the
rattling of a pair of skates in that box in the next seat. They were all
good-natured, every one, though the train was behind time--that is a
sure sign of Christmas. The brakeman wore a piece of mistletoe in his
cap and a broad grin on his face, and he said "Merry Christmas" in a way
to make a man feel good all the rest of the day. No Santa Claus, is
there? You just ask him!

And then the train rolled into the city under the big gray dome to which
George Washington gave his name, and by-and-by I went through a doorway
which all American boys would rather see than go to school a whole week,
though they love their teacher dearly. It is true that last winter my
own little lad told the kind man whose house it is that he would rather
ride up and down in the elevator at the hotel, but that was because he
was so very little at the time and didn't know things rightly, and,
besides, it was his first experience with an elevator.

As I was saying, I went through the door into a beautiful white hall
with lofty pillars, between which there were regular banks of holly with
the red berries shining through, just as if it were out in the woods!
And from behind one of them there came the merriest laugh you could
ever think of. Do you think, now, it was that letter in my pocket that
gave that guilty little throb against my heart when I heard it, or what
could it have been? I hadn't even time to ask myself the question, for
there stood my host all framed in holly, and with the heartiest
handclasp.

"Come in," he said, and drew me after. "The coffee is waiting." And he
beamed upon the table with the veriest Christmas face as he poured it
out himself, one cup for his dear wife and one for me. The children--ah!
you should have asked _them_ if there was a Santa Claus!

       *       *       *       *       *

AND so we sat and talked, and I told my kind friends that my own dear
old mother, whom I have not seen for years, was very, very sick in
far-away Denmark and longing for her boy, and a mist came into my
hostess's gentle eyes and she said, "Let us cable over and tell her how
much we think of her," though she had never seen her. And it was no
sooner said than done. In came a man with a writing-pad, and while we
drank our coffee this message sped under the great stormy sea to the
far-away country where the day was shading into evening already though
the sun was scarce two hours high in Washington:


                                           THE WHITE HOUSE.

          _Mrs. Riis, Ribe, Denmark_:

          Your son is breakfasting with us. We send you our
          love and sympathy.

                                THEODORE AND EDITH ROOSEVELT

For, you see, the house with the holly in the hall was the White House,
and my host was the President of the United States. I have to tell it to
you, or you might easily fall into the same error I came near falling
into. I had to pinch myself to make sure the President was not Santa
Claus himself. I felt that he had in that moment given me the very
greatest Christmas gift any man ever received: my little mother's life.
For really what ailed her was that she was very old, and I know that
when she got the President's dispatch she must have become immediately
ten years younger and got right out of bed. Don't you know mothers are
that way when any one makes much of their boys? I think Santa Claus must
have brought them all in the beginning--the mothers, I mean.

I would just give anything to see what happened in that old town that is
full of blessed memories to me, when the telegraph ticked off that
message. I will warrant the town hurried out, burgomaster, bishop,
beadle and all, to do honor to my gentle old mother. No Santa Claus, eh?
What was that, then, that spanned two oceans with a breath of love and
cheer, I should like to know. Tell me that!

After the coffee we sat together in the President's office for a little
while while he signed commissions, each and every one of which was just
Santa Claus's gift to a grown-up boy who had been good in the year that
was going; and before we parted the President had lifted with so many
strokes of his pen clouds of sorrow and want that weighed heavily on
homes I knew of to which Santa Claus had had hard work finding his way
that Christmas.

It seemed to me as I went out of the door, where the big policeman
touched his hat and wished me a Merry Christmas, that the sun never
shone so brightly in May as it did then. I quite expected to see the
crocuses and the jonquils, that make the White House garden so pretty,
out in full bloom. They were not, I suppose, only because they are
official flowers and have a proper respect for the calendar that runs
Congress and the Executive Department, too.

I stopped on the way down the avenue at Uncle Sam's paymaster's to see
what he thought of it. And there he was, busy as could be, making ready
for the coming of Santa Claus. No need of my asking any questions here.
Men stood in line with bank-notes in their hands asking for gold, new
gold-pieces, they said, most every one. The paymaster, who had a sprig
of Christmas green fixed in his desk just like any other man, laughed
and shook his head and said "Santa Claus?" and the men in the line
laughed too and nodded and went away with their old.

       *       *       *       *       *

ONE man who went out just ahead of me I saw stoop over a poor woman on
the corner and thrust something into her hand, then walk hastily away.
It was I who caught the light in the woman's eye and the blessing upon
her poor wan lips, and the grass seemed greener in the Treasury
dooryard, and the sky bluer than it had been before, even on that bright
day. Perhaps--well, never mind! if any one says anything to you about
principles and giving alms, you tell him that Santa Claus takes care of
the principles at Christmas, and not to be afraid. As for him, if you
want to know, just ask the old woman on the Treasury corner.

And so, walking down that Avenue of Good-will, I came to my train again
and went home. And when I had time to think it all over I remembered the
letters in my pocket which I had not opened. I took them out and read
them, and among them were two sent to me in trust for Santa Claus
himself which I had to lay away with the editor's message until I got
the dew rubbed off my spectacles. One was from a great banker, and it
contained a check for a thousand dollars to help buy a home for some
poor children of the East Side tenements in New York, where the chimneys
are so small and mean that scarce even a letter will go up through them,
so that ever so many little ones over there never get on Santa Claus's
books at all.

The other letter was from a lonely old widow, almost as old as my dear
mother in Denmark, and it contained a two-dollar bill. For years, she
wrote, she had saved and saved, hoping some time to have five dollars,
and then she would go with me to the homes of the very poor and be Santa
Claus herself. "And wherever you decided it was right to leave a trifle,
that should be the place where it would be left," read the letter. But
now she was so old that she could no longer think of such a trip and so
she sent the money she had saved. And I thought of a family in one of
those tenements where father and mother are both lying ill, with a boy,
who ought to be in school, fighting all alone to keep the wolf from the
door, and winning the fight. I guess he has been too busy to send any
message up the chimney, if indeed there is one in his house; but you ask
him, right now, whether he thinks there is a Santa Claus or not.

       *       *       *       *       *

NO Santa Claus? Yes, my little man, there is a Santa Claus, thank God!
Your father had just forgotten. The world would indeed be poor without
one. It is true that he does not always wear a white beard and drive a
reindeer team--not always, you know--but what does it matter? He is
Santa Claus with the big, loving, Christmas heart, for all that; Santa
Claus with the kind thoughts for every one that make children and
grown-up people beam with happiness all day long. And shall I tell you a
secret which I did not learn at the post-office, but it is true all the
same--of how you can always be sure your letters go to him straight by
the chimney route? It is this: send along with them a friendly thought
for the boy you don't like: for Jack who punched you, or Jim who was
mean to you. The meaner he was the harder do you resolve to make it up:
not to bear him a grudge. That is the stamp for the letter to Santa.
Nobody can stop it, not even a cross-draught in the chimney, when it has
that on.

Because--don't you know, Santa Claus is the spirit of Christmas: and
ever and ever so many years ago when the dear little Baby was born after
whom we call Christmas, and was cradled in a manger out in the stable
because there was not room in the inn, that Spirit came into the world
to soften the hearts of men and make them love one another. Therefore,
that is the mark of the Spirit to this day. Don't let anybody or
anything rub it out. Then the rest doesn't matter. Let them tear Santa's
white beard off at the Sunday-school festival and growl in his bearskin
coat. These are only his disguises. The steps of the real Santa Claus
you can trace all through the world as you have done here with me, and
when you stand in the last of his tracks you will find the Blessed Babe
of Bethlehem smiling a welcome to you. For then you will be home.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes.

Every page in this text was decorated with Christmas themes. The
[Illustration] tags were not included in this text version so that
reading might not be interrupted.





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