Christmas is a special time, and the season is the reason for one of my favorite editorials about the holiday ever written.
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 on Sept. 21, 1897. It is one of the most famous newspaper editorials to ever be printed in America (if you click the link, you can see the actual news clip of the editorial). It is known by one line: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
Recently, the “Journalism History Podcast” re-ran a piece about the editorial that shares the fascinating background of The New York Sun and Francis Church, as well as a reading of the editorial. You can listen to it here:
For your reading pleasure, I have pasted in the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” letter below, courtesy of The New York Times.
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, 115 West 95th Street
Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what 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 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.
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. 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.
Having two children of my own, this editorial takes on even more importance. Though Kolten is only 10 months old and barely understands what’s going on around him, Presley is 3 years old and grasps the concept of Santa. The idea that he is going to bring her presents is exciting and fascinating to her, and I don’t want that to ever go away. I want to preserve that wonder for as long as possible.
Therefore, I believe in Santa Claus, and why shouldn’t I?
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 remembered 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.
This editorial has inspired many to revel in their child-like awe of the season and accept that Santa does exist if they will let him, and that is a wonderful gift to the world.