Perhaps there is no more famous editorial than the one written by New York Sun’s Francis Pharcellus Church in 1897. The inspirational and timeless defense of the existence of Santa Claus resonates still today, and the original headline, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” can be heard everywhere.
The back story is interesting, too. The author of the letter to the editor that motivated Church to author the editorial, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, took her father’s advice to heart in penning her letter.
Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, answered his daughter’s inquiry about Santa with a simple answer: “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
So she wrote.
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Church’s history is interesting, too. He served as a war correspondent during the Civil War and witnessed the awful loss of life and the public anguish that followed. His understanding of humanity and his compassion gave rise to his thoughtful reply to a young girl seeking truth.
The Sun, however, ran his editorial on the bottom of the page, not understanding the profound impact his words would have.
One Sun reader wrote this three years ago as the paper reprinted the editorial:
“As each year I get older, I wonder if there is a Santa Claus and each year I read this newspaper article and my question is answer, yes there is a Santa Claus, this story should be told to everyone who question, is there a Santa Claus, we should all thank that little girl Virginia for asking that question is there a Santa Claus. Let this article live on for thousands years to come.”
Here is Virginia’s letter and Church’s response:
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 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.
This combination editorial from the Bradenton Herald and the New York Sun first appeared in December 2015.