Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus

The following letter and editorial appeared in the
September 21, 1897 issue of The New York Sun:

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently
the communication below, expressing at the same
time our great gratification that its faithful author
is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth,
is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O'Hanlon

The Editor Francis Pharcellus Church replied:

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism
of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing
can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia,
whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours,
man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless
world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole
of truth and knowledge.

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.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might
get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch
Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that
prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.
Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof
that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are
unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside,
but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man,
nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived
could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside
that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond.
Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else
real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever.
A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times
10,000 years from now, he will continue
to make glad the heart of childhood.


About the Exchange

Francis P. Church's editorial, "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" was
an immediate sensation, and went on to became one of the most famous
editorials ever written. It first appeared in the The New York Sun
in 1897, almost a hundred years ago, and was reprinted annually until
1949 when the paper went out of business.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O'Hanlon
recalled the events that prompted her letter:

“Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me.
But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn't any Santa Claus,
I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

“It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how
to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote
to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say,
'If you see it in the The Sun, it's so,' and that settled the matter.

“ 'Well, I'm just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,'
I said to father.
“He said, 'Go ahead, Virginia. I'm sure The Sun will give you
the right answer, as it always does.' ”

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents' favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church.
Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times
and had worked on the The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an
anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto,
“Endeavour to clear your mind of cant.” When controversal subjects had to be
tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments
were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl's letter on a most controversial matter,
and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

“Is there a Santa Claus?” the childish scrawl in the letter asked.
At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question.
He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned
to his desk, and he began his reply which was to become one of
the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared.
He died in April, 1906, leaving no children.

Virginia O'Hanlon went on to graduate from Hunter College with a
Bachelor of Arts degree at age 21. The following year she received
her Master's from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teaching
in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal.
After 47 years, she retired as an educator. Throughout her life
she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter,
and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the
Church editorial. Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971,
at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

The People's Almanac, pp. 1358-1359.

Click on Santa to learn more.

NYC: In This House, a Little Girl Had a Question
[8 year-old Virginia O'Hanlon lived at 115 West 95th Street]
(By Clyde Haberman, New York Times, Dec. 23, 2003)

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