In 2011, I published this post on the blog. I thought it would be a good one to bring back each year. I want to repeat that post in the holiday spirit. Enjoy!
More than 100 years ago, one of the most famous lines in newspaper history was printed in the New York Sun.
“Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus.”
Those words were penned by Francis Pharcellus Church, one of The Sun’s editors. The words were in response to a letter written by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon.
As the story is told, young Virginia asked her father whether or not Santa Claus was real. To that, Dr. O’Hanlon told his daughter to write The Sun, which was one of the top newspapers in New York City at the time. As Virginia noted in her letter to the Sun, her father told her “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
Her letter made its way to Church. The editorial, which is reprinted on a yearly basis in newspapers and on websites, has been used in books, for songs and movies. It is the most reprinted editorial in history, according to Newseum, which also noted it was an editorial without a byline.
Though it has a Christmas theme to it and is mainly reprinted around Christmas, the original ran Sept. 21, 1897.
Virginia wrote this to 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?
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”
Enter Church, a former Civil War correspondent.
His response is an amazing work. Somewhat buried in the paper, it reportedly got quite the response. And as history has shown, that response is one of the most famous things in a newspaper.
Even in today’s standards, this is one heck of a good piece of work. (Realize that the style of writing between 1897 and now is night and day).
So, without further ado and with the history of this piece done, allow me to give to you — in the spirit of Christmas — Church’s excellent response to young 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 [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 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.
This editorial originally was published in The New York Sun on Sept. 21, 1897.