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“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.” — Francis Pharcellus Church
In 1897, an eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the following letter to the New York 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?
115 West Ninety-Fifth Street
On September 21, 1897, the newspaper responded, running the following unsigned editorial:
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 eternal 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 they 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 may 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, fancy, 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 he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
The editorial was a throw-away, the third of the three editorials run that day by the paper. Although unsigned, it was written by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, who — being a newspaper reporter in those blue-collar days of reporting was bound to be a skeptical man in a skeptical age. Regardless, he captured a greater truth in this editorial.
For that reason, the editorial never became the throw-away it had been intended as, a cute answer to a child’s question. Instead, it has reverberated with readers over the last 124 years.
Church would die nine years later in 1906 at the age of 67, three shy of his allocated three-score-and-ten. He had been a newspaperman for 44 of those years, rising to the position of publisher of the New York Sun. Yet he gained immortality with this one short editorial. The rest of his life is largely forgotten.
Virginia O’Hanlon would grow up, marry, have children and lead a career as a professional educator. She earned a Ph.D. (not a less-rigorous Ed.D.), and retired as the principal of a New York City elementary school, back in an era when public education was world-class. She died at the age of 71 but was forever known as eight-year-old “Virginia” of the famous editorial. Her daughter would work for the New York Sun for several years in the 1930s, where she was known as “Virginia’s Daughter.”
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.Published in