In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon who lived in Manhattan asked her father if Santa Claus really existed. He suggested she write to ‘The Sun’, which was a prominent New York newspaper at the time and ask them, while assuring her that “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so”.
Her letter appeared in ‘The Sun’ newspaper on September 21, 1887 and was answered by reporter Francis Pharcellus Church.
Now more than a century later the famous reply “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”, has become an indelible part of popular Christmas folklore and is the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.
“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.”
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.
Francis Pharcellus Church, author of the famous editorial
Francis Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War who saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society.
Virginia O’Hanlon 1895
Virginia O’Hanlon married Edward Douglas in 1910. He left her shortly before their daughter Laura was born and they were divorced in 1930.
She received a Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College in 1910, a Master’s degree in education from Columbia University in 1912 and a Doctorate from Fordham University. She was then a school teacher in the New York City ISD. She became a junior principal in 1935 and retired in 1959. She died in 1971 and was buried at the Chatham Cemetery in New York.
Throughout her life Virginia received a steady stream of mail about the letter she wrote and she included a copy of the editorial in her replies.
Merry Christmas everyone and have a happy, safe and prosperous New Year!