Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

By Francis P. Church, first pub­lished in The New York Sun on Sep­tem­ber 21, 1897.

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

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 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 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 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.

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