With the wind chill putting the temperature in New York under 20 degrees one day last week, I emerged from the subway onto the sidewalk near Macy’s. As I approached the Broadway entrance, I realized the cold had scared away those who would normally be crowding around the holiday windows.
Translation: Perfect time for me to check them out before I begin my shopping errands.
I joined the sparse clusters of people there and began reading the copy on the first window. The theme this year is based on the timeless editorial we know as “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” The display was designed so that by the time you finish reading the copy, a curtain of sorts begins to part and you see the story unfold. The same happens at each window, so there is a lovely rhythm to it.
As I was reading the words on the second window, two mothers approached with young girls about eight or nine years old. They were sweetly dressed in furry coats and ear muffs and the women yelled for the girls to stand in front of the window and pose for pictures. They made sure their hair was just so despite the wind and got the shots.
And all I could think was what a darned shame.
They didn’t look at the windows, didn’t read the story, didn’t gaze in wonder at the artistry and certainly didn’t ingest the message imparted in the final frame, the one about magic and faith. They now have a picture to say, “We were there.”
But I must ask, were they really?
It was all the more frustrating for me because the girls seemed to be bright and engaged and were at a prime age to really get what the story was about. All it did was teach them about appearances being more important than actual experiences.
By the time I got to the last Macy’s window, my eyes were watery. I’m a bit of a sap, especially at this time of year, but it is all the more special because I’ve only learned to enjoy these things the last few years. Prior to that I’d been on life’s treadmill, the one we’ve been socialized to believe is acceptable and even preferable despite its focus on materialism and always being “busy.”
When 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to The Sun asking about the existence of Santa Claus because her friends had planted seeds of doubt, editor Francis Pharcellus Church wrote a thoughtful reply that began like this:
“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.”
Couldn’t we use a reminder of this every day? To be mindful of our skepticism. Not the healthy variety, mind you, but the brand that doesn’t let in wonder.
Already we have to nearly choke back laughter at the line in Virginia’s letter where she quotes her father saying, “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.” It brings up so much. I don’t know whether to rejoice in that strong belief in journalism or wish people were more discriminant about what they take as fact in today’s media.
But I digress.
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” the editorial continues. “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 eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”
Just childhood’s light? I think not.
There is a reason this endures. Macy’s (NYSE:M) is exposing the story to those who might not be inclined to read about it or watch a show about it on television. Six lively windows. All one must do to engage is stand still for a few moments and let it wash over them. It is impossible not to smile and feel better for it.
“Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond,” Church wrote. “Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.”
Indeed. I know because I was there.