Francis P. Church’s editorial, “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus,” is one of the most famous editorials ever written. It first appeared in the “The New York Sun” in 1897, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business.
Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O’Hanlon recalled that while she believed in Santa - he had never failed her - some of her friends expressed doubts. Her parents’ were somewhat evasive with their answers. Since her father always said if he saw it in “The Sun,” that settled any argument, she decided to write her parents’ favorite newspaper.
That letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. The son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for “The New York Times” and had worked on the “The New York Sun” for 20 years. 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 question for the ages. His response has appropriately stood the test of time.
Church was married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April 1906, leaving no children. Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas, who began teaching in the New York City school system in 1912, became a principal and retired after 47 years as an educator. She died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in Valatie, N.Y.
It has been become the tradition of the Bulletin, and many other newspapers, the republish their exchange each Christmas. So here is the text of the article:
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, 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 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!