There Really is a Santa ~ Tom Sierak

Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus

This letter was published in the Editorial Page,
New York Sun, 1897 ~ by Francis P. Church

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:

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 sceptical 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 external 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.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!

From "The People's Almanac", pp. 1358-9.
Francis P. Church's editorial,
"Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus"
was an immediate sensation, and became one of
the most famous editorials ever written.
It first appeared in the The New York Sun
in 1897, over 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 recalls 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
to her parents' favourite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a
veteran editor, Francis P. Church.
Son of a Baptist minister, Francis 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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