Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

– Francis Pharcellus Church, Editorial Page, New York Sun, 1897

It’s that time of year again, a time when shoppers fill the streets, looking for those perfect gifts. A time when mothers and fathers work endlessly to decorate their homes with trees, lights, candy canes, ornaments, wreaths, and angels. A time when children compose wish lists, taking careful inventory of their possessions, spending hours composing the perfect tableau of everything their little hearts desire, and reluctantly entrusting the postman with the arduous task of carrying it far away to the North Pole. A time when parents rush from store to store, combing every inch of every toy aisle, taking full advantage of the few short years these holidays mean so much to a child. A time of ribbons, and bows, and colorful paper, and a time of working dilligently to wrap each package with as much care as possible. A time when families gather for possibly the first time in a year, sharing with one another their stories of adventure, their accounts of good fortune, and the harsh realities of lost loved ones. A time when differences are put aside, when the petty grievances on which we seem to thrive all year suddenly lose their importance, and we find ourselves giving a little extra. For this is the season, more than any other, when we come together as brothers and sisters to celebrate all the joys that life brings us. When every dream, every longing that we hold dear, comes to life in a remarkable feeling of hope and passion.

But there is another side to the holiday season, a side many of us may have never known. While most of us share time with family and friends, exchanging gifts and keeping warm in our heated homes, children elsewhere will suffer immeasurable disappointment. For these children know that classes will resume in just a short while, and the others will return with new shoes, clothes, and coats, telling their tales of wondrous, awe-inspiring toys found waiting that morning. They’ll look out their windows and see neighborhood kids riding brand new bicycles for the first time. But for these boys and girls, there will be no presents. There will be no trees, no lights, and no ribbons or bows. Rather than joy, or cheer, or delight, they’ll find themselves overcome by despair, with lumps in their throats, choking back tears. And for two people in the next room, two good, loving parents, the pain is just as severe. Sometimes just putting food on the table can be a strenuous and toilsome endeavor, and although they desperately wanted to make this the best holiday ever, the extra money was just never there. Things can be even tougher for single parents, especially at this time of year. So many of us take what we have for granted. While we’re collecting toys and going to the movies, those less fortunate than us struggle to cope with an uphill battle to which there is no end in sight.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He’s you. He’s me. He’s all of us, year after year. We might not all have the time to go out and volunteer; we may not even have enough time for ourselves. Most of us, however, have the ability to give a little, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Just think of the difference you can make to a child by dropping off an extra STAR WARS, Batman, Superman, or G.I. JOE figure at your local Toys For Tots donation center. What might seem like an insignificant gesture could bring a glow to the face of an impoverished boy or girl. You might see Spider-Man, Monster High, My Little Pony, or Barbie toys on clearance, and just a few dollars can go a long way toward sharing the spirit of the season.

Each year, Toys For Tots delivers millions of toys to millions of less fortunate children. There are local campaigns in all 50 states, the District Of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In other nations, local churches and community centers can help your gifts find their way to those in need. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Regardless of your background or religion, wouldn’t you like to give a child the opportunity to believe?

If you want to help, you can click here to donate toys or click here to donate cash.

And so, I leave you with this, from John Greenleaf Whittier:

Somehow, not only for Christmas
But all the long year through,
The joy that you give to others
Is the joy that comes back to you.
And the more you spend in blessing
The poor and lonely and sad,
The more of your heart’s possessing
Returns to you glad.

Originally published December 2, 2002, on (RIP).
Updated for Compulsive on December 4, 2013.