In September 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to The New York Sun, which hasn’t been published since 1950, asking, “Please tell me the truth is there a Santa Claus?”
The response to her letter was written by Francis Pharcellus Church, though at the time it was published as an unsigned editorial, and it ran Sept. 21, 1897. It is one of the most famous newspaper editorials to ever be printed in America. It is known by one line: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Little Virginia’s letter, which was written because her friends were saying there was no such thing as Santa Claus, was sent to The Sun because her father had told her, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” She was just trying to ease her own mind, but she has undoubtedly helped children and adults alike all over the world in the years since her letter was originally published as it gets reprinted year after year, proclaiming the gentile spirit and mystical wonder that help make Santa Claus an important part of the Christmas holiday and the reason behind the season – never giving up hope and accepting that anything is possible, even if it is a fat man sliding down a chimney or a virgin giving birth to a baby boy.
Virginia died in 1971, but she has continued to have an impact on the world even in death thanks to her childhood desire to prove to her comrades that Santa was real. Now she is doing even more.
When Virginia wrote the letter, she signed it with her address: 115 West 95th Street in New York City. That address is now home to the Studio School, a school at 117 West 95th Street on the Upper West Side in New York City’s Manhattan borough. The school is an independent, not-for-profit serving pupils 2 through 14 years old that focuses on a creative approach to learning for academically gifted students.
The school encompasses where Virginia used to live, so in honor of Virginia, the school is starting a scholarship in her name. The scholarship will be awarded based upon need.
I think this scholarship in Virginia’s honor is a wonderful thing. That letter she wrote and the subsequent response from Church are wonderful bits of American journalism history. Seldom does a piece of writing have such a lasting impact with such wide appeal to the masses.
And it has inspired many to revel in their child-like awe of the season and accept that Santa does exist, if they will let him.
I believe in Santa. Why not? The problem most people have is that they want to think of Santa as an actual being. Instead, I believe in the spirit of Santa, who as the editorial said “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.”
Santa doesn’t just have to be a person. Santa can be an act of caring and love. Santa helps keep the Christmas holiday magical for those who don’t yet grasp the religious connections.
Francis Church should be honored, too, for his efforts to preserve the wonder of Christmas, even if the editorial was written in September before any snow touched the ground as the story is often depicted when retold.