A simple handwritten note penned by a young girl showed the world that there are other ways one may, aside from meeting Santa, find out whether he genuinely exists.
In 1897, on a warm September evening in New York City, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who constantly yearned for the absolute truth, approached her father, Phillip, with one hard-hitting question. “Is Santa real?” she asked him after he got home from work. O’Hanlon held a position as a coroner’s assistant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Surprised by his daughter’s candor but not wanting to break her heart, he advised her to write to the editor of the popular New York newspaper, The Sun, and ask him. Being a firm believer in anything printed by the esteemed periodical, he told his daughter, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
The reason Virginia asked was that her peers at school were teasing her for believing in Santa. They were saying that the Santa in the shop was merely a grown-up dressed in Santa clothes; Santa is not a real person.
However, Virginia was not convinced. That’s why she posed the question to her father.
Acting on his advice, she took pen to paper and wrote to the New York Sun, and the letter read as follows:
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say that there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in the Sun, it is so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”
119 w. 95th Street
On Sept. 21, 1897, Virginia was delighted to learn she had a reply.
In the 7th slot below some editorials and an article about the invention of the chainless bicycle appeared a letter addressed to her printed in black and white.
It was written by Frances P. Church, 58, the paper’s chief editorial writer, and a former American Civil War reporter.
When Church’s boss handed him the handwritten note asking him to respond, he apparently “bristled and pooh-poohed.” Nevertheless, his quick response in 417 words (first published anonymously) went on to become “history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial.”
The editorial read:
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 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, 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.”
The articles captured the hearts of New York City, eventually becoming the most famous Christmas letters ever written. They have been translated into dozens of languages and published in storybooks, even movies, on posters and stamps and are now part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States.
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