In 1897, eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the New York Sun to ask if her friends were right and that there was no Santa Claus. The lead editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, replied with a letter that has struck a chord for generations: “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.”
It is an astounding piece of writing that invited a little girl to understand that there is a mystery to life that cannot be seen by the naked eye. And “Santa Claus” is the name we give to that mystery, one which 85% of America’s children believe in. But that myth is now threatened, not by naysayers, but by aggressive steps to melt Santa’s home in the Arctic in the form of climate change.
Making matters worse is the Trump administration’s brazen attempt to sell oil leases in The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, threatening our planet, our people, our wildlife, and our mythology. If the administration gets its way, an Indigenous tribe will face a human rights emergency, polar bear and caribou will become even more endangered, and Santa’s home will forever be lost. Given the timing, it’s a pretty Grinchy move. But it’s not the first time this has happened.
“When a people start killing off their own symbols, they are in a bad way.” These were the words of John Fire Lame Deer describing how Americans nearly killed off the bald eagle, the proud symbol of our nation. Lost habitat and the pesticide DDT were the main culprits, and the majestic birds would have gone away completely were it not for their symbolic status and the public outcry at their potential demise. The side effect of this victory was more forest land and less poison floating around, a massive win for life itself.
We’re in a similar situation with Santa Claus. For many, he is the symbol of childhood. When we talk about bespectacled wise old men with magical powers, he predates Dumbledore and Gandalf by a few hundred years. In a single night, he defies space and time as he travels to every country on a flying sled and somehow fits down every chimney. In the midst of this adventure, he devours milk and cookies, fills each stocking with candy, and puts Elf-made toys under each tree. The least we could do in exchange is not melt his natural habitat.
That ‘s why we started a new movement called "Save Santa’s Home,"—to give parents a tool to discuss climate change with their kids in a way that’s encouraging, empowering, and extremely not terrifying. Led by a Santa Squad full of parents and kids, and Santa Claus himself, we have been publicly endorsed by fifteen Congresspeople. Last week, we held a livestream with Marianne Williamson, Alyssa Milano, and the Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources, Congressman Raul Grijalva.
The star of the show, though, was Santa and the kids. They wrote letters to Joe Biden insisting that the president-elect undo Trump’s Arctic policies and do his best to #SaveSantasHome. They promised to follow the strategies of an accompanying children’s book and signed a rhyming petition asking Mr. Biden:
Before Christmas Eve, announce you’re on track,
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To stop mean Mr. Trump and his plans to attack
The Arctic where bears and the caribou roam,
Tell Trump you will stop him, you’ll Save Santa’s Home!
It’s a whimsical look at how to save the planet, and that’s strategic. Somehow something every real scientist agrees on, that human activity is causing a dangerous increase in global temperatures, has become political. When we make it narrative, we remove it from that world. All we’re doing is saving Santa’s home. If, in the process, we prevent sea level from rising and wiping out Florida, well that’s just a bonus.
Recent history gives us hope in this regard. We didn’t just bring back the bald eagle. We also beat acid rain and closed the hole in the ozone layer. These should be reminders to us that, even in our darkest hour, when all hope seems lost, it’s not. The spirit of Santa is in each of us even when we are full of doubt. After all, in the words of the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun:
“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.”
Together, we can protect and cherish our sense of wonder, our planet, and each other. We can save Santa’s home, and with it, we can save our own.