Yes, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

Or at least, this is the news just in from Macy’s, the Cincinnati department store chain that practically immortalized him. Remember Miracle on 34th Street? Yep, he was a Macy’s Santa.

But now, the Macy’s Santa is apparently no more. Cincy approached the conglomerate (the former Federated Department Stores), asking if we could borrow one of their Kris Kringles for our cover photo this month, and we were given this stunning piece of news: “After looking into this more, it turns out that we do not have Santa in our stores during the holiday season,” Nathan Shore, director of public relations for Macy’s, told us. 

This is nothing less than the demise of a department store icon, a piece of imagery that proponents say brings holiday cheer and critics denounce as linking Santa with crass commerce. Apparently, the critics have won out. (Memo to the Grinch: One big lump of coal please.)
What child doesn’t have a memory of being plopped on Santa’s lap to issue a wish list? What mom and dad haven’t stooped to overhear what little Jane and Johnny had to say to the big guy?

Contrary to popular belief, Santa was not the creation of some literary giant. There is no mention of a “Santa Claus” in the famed Clement C. Moore poem “The Night Before Christmas” – just an elvish figure named St. Nicholas. Nor does Charles Dickens, writing about the true meaning of Christmas, refer to a Santa in “A Christmas Carol.”

Nope, it took a gentleman named Rowland H. Macy, back in the 1860s, to popularly coin the name and link it to an in-store creation. J.W. Parkinson’s store in Philadelphia did feature a St. Nick climbing the store’s chimney as a publicity stunt in 1841. But it was Macy, searching for ways to increase traffic in his store’s toy department, who hit upon the Santa Claus moniker, basing it on the New York City term “Sinterklaas” (in turn, based on the Dutch “Sint Nicolass”). It was the indubitable Mr. Macy who helped propel a 4th-century saint into America’s living rooms, thrusting the Anglicized name upon him and dressing him up in a colorful red cloak.

By the turn of the last century, America’s children were lining up in every city to reveal to a white-bearded chubster what toys they’d like for Christmas. And no store did better than R.H. Macy and Co. at the corner of 34th Street and Herald Square in New York City. The 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street cemented the connection between Macy’s and Santa Claus in the public’s mind. In this classic scene from the film, R. H. Macy is actually called to the stand to testify on Santa’s behalf by a courtroom attorney:
ATTORNEY: Who is the gentleman seated there?
MACY: Kris Kringle.
ATTORNEY: Your employee?
MACY: Yes.
ATTORNEY: You believe him to be of sound mind?
MACY: I certainly do.
ATTORNEY: Mr. Macy, you're under oath. You really believe this man is Santa Claus?
MACY: I do.

And now, Macy’s says there is no Santa Claus? To paraphrase (and brutally mangle) Francis P. Church’s famed New York Sun editorial, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” (directed to a doubting 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon): “Virginia, your little friends are absolutely right. They have embraced the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. And good for them. They can now shop at Macy’s without fear of tripping over Father Christmas in the aisles.”  

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Joseph Gyarmati of Goshen, who bailed us out and agreed to be a stand-in Santa Claus on this month’s cover. You'll find Gyarmati all season long as the Santa at Tower Place Mall.