Virginia O'Hanlon is famous as the young girl who wrote a letter to the New York Sun in 1897 asking if Santa Claus was real, prompting a reply from Francis P. Church, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." But you have to feel a bit sorry for O'Hanlon, because almost every year after that, until she died in 1971, reporters sought her out to do follow-ups to find out if she still believed in Santa Claus. It must have been frustrating to be asked the same question, year after year.
O'Hanlon as a young girl
O'Hanlon was always very gracious about the repetitive questioning, (seems like she was a very nice lady), and would say that of course she believed in Santa Claus — except for 1935 when she must have been in a dark mood, because in that year she came close to saying that she no longer believed. She told a reporter:
I still keep my faith in the ultimate kindness of human nature, but how can I, or anyone, believe in the Santa I knew as a child when today there is so much misery and suffering in the world?
If Santa lives today, he lives only in the childish joy of those he has made happy. How can he live in the crying hearts of those he has forsaken? Little children, such as I was, trust in Santa Claus as a miraculous munificence through which all things are made possible. There will be a tree, there will be loved ones about, gaiety and cherished toys that have been dreamt about for months.
Those whom Santa visits think of Christmas as a beautiful, sacred occasion which it should be — but today seldom is. But for every child tucked into bed Christmas night with his new toy, there are hundreds, no thousands, who huddle in ragged bed clothing sobbing in the night at a fate at best cruel.
As the 1935 Boy Scout handbook says, "By agreement of the Scout Leaders throughout the world, Boy Scouts greet Brother Scouts with a warm left hand clasp." (wikipedia). But what's the origin of this form of greeting?
Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, claimed he learned the custom from a defeated African chieftain whom he attempted to greet in 1896 by holding out his right hand. The chieftain supposedly replied: "The men in my tribe greet the bravest with the left hand." There are different versions of this story, but I think all of them can safely be dismissed as bogus.
There's also a theory that the scouts shake with their left hand because it's the hand closer to the heart. I also doubt this theory.
I think the real origin traces back to Baden-Powell's passion for promoting ambidexterity — and not just the ability to use either hand with equal dexterity, but to use both hands for different tasks, simultaneously.
To train the human body completely and symmetrically, that is, to cultivate all its organs and members to their utmost capacity, in order that its functions may also attain their maximum development, is an obligation that cannot safely be ignored. This completeness and symmetry can only be secured by an equal attention to, and exercise of, both sides of the body--the right and the left; and this two-sided growth can alone be promoted and matured by educating our two hands equally, each in precisely the same way, and exactly to the same extent.
It is hardly possible to lay too much stress upon this bimanual training, or to attach too much important to the principke, because our hands -- and our arms, from which, for purposes both of argument and education, they cannot be separated -- not only constitute our chief medium of communication with the outer world, but they are likewise the pre-eminent agency by which we stamp our impress upon it...
The heavy pressure of my office work makes me wish that I had cultivated, in my youth, the useful art of writing on two different subjects at once. I get through a great deal extra -- it is true -- by using the right and left hand alternately, but I thoroughly appreciate how much more can be done by using them both together.
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Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
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