The amazing ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus’

Bob Rodriguez

A piece of newspaper writing from 126 years ago has endured.
  Although only St. Nick (aka Santa Claus) is the topic, there are some (including this writer) who believe that the spirit of Christmas in the minds of Christians and others worldwide is part of the underlying belief in the response to a young girl about Santa.
In 1897, Philip O’Hanlon, a surgeon, was asked by his 8-year-old daughter, Virginia, whether Santa Claus existed. His answer did not convince her, and Virginia decided to pose the question to The New York Sun. Sources conflict over whether her father suggested writing the letter, or if she elected to on her own.
And there have been critical responses through the years, many from other newsmen. One expressed the belief that the letter and article were fabricated. Another opined that it has become customary for some editors to simply rerun the letter instead of writing their own Yule story “so that they can leave early for the company Christmas party.”
Another wrote that the response to a query about Santa indicates that some youngsters are mean, stupid and liars. Here is what they’re talking about; you decide.
So: 126 years ago  at The New York Sun newspaper, editor Francis Church was handed a letter on Sept. 20, 1897, and asked to write a response for the next day’s edition. His editorial reply has become legendary.
“Dear Editor--I am eight 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
115 W. 95th Street
Church wrote
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 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, 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.