Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

And each letter to Santa mailed via Macy’s turns into a $1 donation (up to $1 million) to Make-A-Wish Foundation, benefitting keiki with life-threatening medical conditions. Talk about Christmas magic: Since 2008, $8.7 million has been raised

Christmas is a time of giving.

Everywhere you look, there are needs to be met: red kettles in front of every store, hangtags at the register to feed the poor, and nieces and nephews needing a gift-wrapped surprise to adore.


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Demmis Cisneros with children Ivanna and Ian at Macy's | Photo by Nathalie Walker

Truly, it is better to give than to receive, yet we only have so much to physically give. What if there were a way to give using the one thing of which we have an endless supply?


This is the guiding principal behind Macy’s “Believe” campaign. All one has to do is to fill out a card to Santa — either online at or stop by the store and fill out a letter, and Macy’s will donate $1 for each letter received, up to $1 million, to Make-A-Wish foundation.

The program began in 2008 and has raised $8.7 million for the charity simply by the accumulation of others’ wishes.

The genesis of the idea comes from perhaps the most famous letter to the editor in American history, written by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897, who inquired of the staff at the New York Sun if indeed there was a Santa Claus. The reply, printed on the front page of the paper, included this timeless and symbolic second paragraph:

“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 eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”

These words, written by editorial writer Francis Church, speak to that belief of something beyond ourselves and to dream of the unreachable, which is exactly what the Make-A-Wish Foundation provides and why Macy’s chose it for this promotion.

The foundation, one of the largest children’s charities in the world, grants kids with a life-threatening medical condition one big wish. These can range from hanging out with their favorite football team to going to Disney World or getting to meet the president of the United States.

The program has been in existence since 1980, and it grants a wish somewhere in the country every 38 minutes, totaling more than 226,000 wishes since its inception.

According to a 2011 U.S. study of wish impact, most health professionals surveyed believe a wish-come-true can have positive impacts on the health of children. Kids say wishes give them renewed strength to fight their illnesses, and their parents say these experiences help strengthen the entire family.

Each year, Macy’s continues to grow this theme of “Believe” with not just the letter-writing fundraiser but also by spreading the message through a variety of media.

For the past three years, it has underwritten schools’ production of Yes, Virginia The Musical. It provides the script and score completely royalty-free to 100 schools nationwide, as well as $1,000 grants to purchase costumes, build sets and acquire lighting and sound equipment.

If you know of a school that would like to participate, you can find all the information to apply for the grant and see the script at

Macy’s also is selling a variety of products this holiday season that, when purchased, 10 percent of the sales price goes back to Make-A-Wish. These include a “Yes, Virginia” illustrated storybook or animated DVD, as well as holiday trimmings, stockings and a new Virginia doll.

Overseeing this fundraiser at the Ala Moana store (and running four floors of holiday shopping mayhem) is store manager Demmis Cisneros. This is his second yuletide in the Islands, and as a lifer in the retail sector, he lives for this time of year.

“This is my 16th Christmas. We have to prepare for what is to come, a lot of lines and a lot of great customers coming through, but it is fun. It is part of what we do, and it is my favorite part of the year,” says Cisneros, who began his career in Los Angeles as a night clerk in the men’s department straight out of high school.

Preparations for the holidays start before Halloween, not out of capitalistic fervor but simply because there is so much to do. Trucks of merchandise have to be brought in and cataloged, but the items they bring in are a little different than what he was used to organizing this time of year on the Mainland.

“They stock up on a lot of sweaters, we stock up on a lot of T-shirts,” says Cisneros with a laugh.

Each year of participating in the “Believe” promotion, he has watched it grow, and he appreciates how some children have now made it their own.

“We have kids who will go out and gather letters from school and bring them down as a group, then the mailman comes and picks it up and everything goes to Santa,” says Cisneros, whose family hails from Nicaragua.

While customers are happy to help, perhaps the biggest wish they have this year facing the holiday crush is to find that elusive parking stall. And with the ewa end of the mall lot closed with the construction of Bloomingdales, it has become all the more vexing.

But Cisneros believes it has found some proactive solutions this year.

“The mall has done such an incredible job as compared to last year, as we started to see what the construction was going to look like,” says

Cisneros. “So the preparations have been a partnership with the big boxes (stores) so we (the employees) are parking at AMPC and the convention center, which will be huge because it frees up a lot of customer stalls. We are OK — it’s good for us to get a little walk in.”

It literally frees up hundreds of parking spots, and coupling that with the free valet parking available in front of Nordstrom, Longs and Morton’s Steakhouse, customers will have a variety of options this month.

Making the season even more jam-packed for Cisneros in recent years is the addition of his two children, Ivanna (4) and Ian (1), who are looking for quality time with their father while he mans the helm of one of the busiest stores in the state.

“I am a very family person, and you do work some long hours in this business,” admits Cisneros, who credits wife Iveth for helping keep things together. “But it is how I spend my time when I get home. I make sure I have the same energy when I get home that I have at work, to make sure I give it right back to my family. I try to do anything I can to contribute.”

Which leads to the question: What is Cisneros putting in his letter to Santa? Perhaps to speed up the clock to New Year’s Day?

“In January, we go into inventory, so there is no winding down, But that is the joy of retail, it never ends,” says Cisneros with a smile.