Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy
Advertisement
Share
News

‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’

From the editorial page of The New York Sun, written by Francis P.

Church, Sept. 21, 1897.

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication

below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its

Advertisement

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?

Advertisement

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 West Ninety-fifth Street

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,

Advertisement

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

Advertisement

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 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, 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.

From The People’s Almanac, pp. 1358-9.

Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes Virginia, There is a Santa

Claus,” was an immediate sensation, and became one of the most famous

editorials ever written. It first appeared in The New York Sun in

1897, almost 100 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 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 Pharcellus Church, who was born in Rochester, N.Y., on Feb.

22, 1839, the son of a Baptist minister. He had covered the Civil War

for The New York Times and had worked at The New York Sun for 20

years, most recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a

sardonic man, had for his personal motto “Endeavor to clear your mind

of cant.” When controversial 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 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.


Advertisement