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Virginia's Question:

Is There A Santa Claus?

Editorial Page, New York Sun, September 21, 1897

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:

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?
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 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.

From The History Channel, which gave the following citation: "Courtesy of the Newseum," which also contributed the following:

In 1897, an eight-year-old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to The New York Sun asking: "Please tell me the truth: is there a Santa Claus?" The answer she received--"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"--is one of the most widely reprinted newspaper editorials of all time, appearing in dozens of languages, and in books, movies, posters, and greeting cards. The author of "Yes, Virginia," veteran newsman and Sun editorial writer Francis Pharcellus Church, turned out a 500-word reply, printed on September 21, 1897, on page six of the paper, with no byline.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," Church wrote. "He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give 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."

The editorial was destined to live on, far beyond Church's death in 1906; The Sun's in 1950, and even beyond Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas, who grew up to become an educator in New York, and died in 1971.

Reprinted with permission from the Newseum, the world's only interactive museum of news, located in Arlington, Virginia.

The History Channel, on February 21, 2001, noted that Virginia gave the original letter to a grand daughter, who pasted it in a scrapbook. It was feared that the letter was destroyed in a house fire, but 30 years after the fire, it was discovered intact. The original is now in the possession of a great-grandson, who lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Francis Pharcellus 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 New York Sun in 1897, and was reprinted annually until 1949 when the paper went out of business. That tradition, however, did not die with the Sun; the editorial is still reprinted annually by newspapers throughout the world.

Thirty-six years after her letter was printed, Virginia O'Hanlon, daughter of Dr. Philip F. O’Hanlon, a consulting surgeon of the Police Department, recalled 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 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 her parents' favorite newspaper. Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis Pharcellus Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked at The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, "Endeavor 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.

It has been reported that Church didn’t accept the assignment happily. "At first he bristled and pooh-poohed the subject," wrote Edward P. Mitchell, his editor, "but took and letter and turned with an air of resignation to his desk." And so he began his reply that 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, becoming a junior principal in 1935. She also received a doctorate from Fordham University. After 47 years, she retired as an educator.

The New York School of Printing reproduced the Sun’s Santa Claus editorial for Mrs. Douglas’s private use as a handsomely printed sheet. She used the sheet to answer requests for text, which continued throughout her life. It was a message which, in many and more sophisticated ways, she communicated to the thousands of children who were her pupils during nearly half a century of teaching, as she thought to ‘make glad the heart of childhood.

Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas in later years

She appeared on a Perry Como TV show when it was still broadcast in black and white. Como asked Virginia if she would like to hear the editorial read again and she replied that she never tired of hearing it. News anchorman Chet Huntley came out on the stage and read it.

Each year until her death she would prepare for questions about Santa Claus, saying "Yes, I still believe."

Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

See also: Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus (Newseum)

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