I thought I'd start the Christmas Season off with this post, my friend Mean Kitty posted it on her Blog but has given me permission to print it here. Her thoughts are that more people should read it and it should be sent around the world. I apologize for the spacing but for some reason that is how my computer copies my friends post.
Over a hundred years ago, a little girl by the name of Virginia O’Hanlon had an 8 year old crisis of faith.
It all started when little Virginia had a birthday in July of 1897 and it must have been a very nice birthday, however in September, when she went back to school her school friends must have asked her
“what did you do during the Summer” and she must have told them about her
birthday and the presents she got--- during that moment she must have said out loud “I wonder what Santa Claus will bring at Christmas?”
Now it must have been a nasty 9 year old boy who told her that Santa Claus
doesn’t exist (boys are like that you know—he must have received coal in his
stocking from last Christmas) but Virginia believed in Santa Claus and of course she went home crying and must have told her mother, her mother being busy as a mother is may have said “I’m sure Santa does exist” but Virginia wanted it from an authority, and to little girls the best authority or authority figure is Father.
When her Father came home she put the question to him. Virginia’s father was a
doctor and worked as an assistant coroner with the New York police dept. Both as
a doctor and as a coroner he must have seen the very sad and seamy underside of
life that he wanted to protect or shield his family and especially his young daughter from those horrors of life.
1897 was also a very skeptical period of time, the Civil war was barely over 33
years pervious and even though 3 decades had passed there were still very hard feelings and loss from that most horrible war.
It had become a skeptical age, many people were no longer believing in God, if a God could do all that harm, then God did not exist, so thought many people.
Dr. O’Hanlon was dumfounded when Virginia tearfully told him what had
happened at school. But he was a resourceful man, he knew he didn’t have the
words to explain this to her, nor did he want to burst her belief in Santa, but
here was an 8 year old child, a little girl, slowly, timidly knocking on adulthoods’ door.
From time to time in Dr. O’Hanlon’s household, if there was any question to be settled Dr. O’Hanlon and other members of his family would write to the Question and Answer dept of the New York Sun Newspaper. And Dr. O’Hanlon had the habit of saying “That if it’s in the Sun, it’s so”. That was how powerful journalism was in those days. So he
suggested to Virginia to write to the Sun Newspaper.
The Sun was a very lively newspaper in its writing and editorials, back then
The Sun and other newspapers would always write editorial rebuttals to other newspapers, this was a form of rivalry. The Sun remained being published until the mid
Surprisingly Virginia’s letter did not go to the Question and Answer column, it
was re-directed to the Publisher of the newspaper a Mr. Mitchell who read it and
thought that it would be best to answer it as an editorial and the best man for
the job was Francis P. Church.
Church was the son of a Baptist minister the Rev. Pharcellus Church, Francis was
the middle son of three boys and surprisingly his eldest brother Marcellus and his
younger brother John Adams were better known than Francis, even their Father was
of some renown having established a publication on religion. Francis and his
older brother founded the Army and Navy magazine in 1862 and later the Gazette
magazine which was later bought by the Atlantic Monthly, both brothers acted as
correspondents during the Civil War until Marcellus joined the Union army and
attainted the rank of Captain, Francis continued as a war correspondent.
Younger brother John Adams became a famous mining engineer and later in life was at
Tombstone, Arizona at the time of the gunfight at the O.K.Corrall.
Francis was an editor in 1897 at the Sun and was frequently handed any
assignments that dealt with theology. Because of his life experience Francis P.
Church was a sardonic personality and had no time for “fluff or flummery”. His
was a logical type of thinking and he, like many others had been affected by the
loss of humanity from the Civil War.
Mitchell handed the letter to Church who at first refused it, thinking it some
sort of joke, but Mitchell said it wasn’t a joke, so with great resignation
Church took the letter and began to work an editorial about it.
What he created was a 500 word editorial masterpiece for its day and it added to
the idea of Santa Claus as being a spirit of belief in a skeptical age.
In reading little Virginia O’Hanlon’s letter, Church realized that here was a child who was approaching adulthood. To just say yes Santa exists would not be enough, he had to explain what Santa was, in a way that was acceptable to children and also wake up the minds of adults to have “goodness, compassion and love” in their hearts.
Church realized that Santa was bigger than a grown up, that is was a question of faith in times of adversity.
Something inspired Francis P. Church, a man that had no time for “fluff” or
foolishness, something that made him dig deep into his soul to create such a masterful editorial.
Now this editorial did not run in December of 1897 but in September of that
month and was the 7th of 12 editorials that ran on page 10 of the Sun. But there
was something about it that captured the minds, hearts and spirits of the
Most of the time when any newspaper ran an editorial, especially about a
controversial subject other newspapers would do editorial rebuttals---but this
editorial about Santa Claus, no newspaper dared to write a rebuttal----
It was the Sun’s policy to not give any editorial credit but have it as a Sun
Newspaper response; no one knew that Francis P. Church wrote it. The Sun never
republished it although there was great demand, finally 6 years after The Sun
did, still not crediting Church---when it was republished it was with this
snippy phrase “…that perhaps people’s scrapbooks were wearing out.”
In 1898 Church married, but had no children and continued writing at the Sun
until several months before his death, he died in April 1906 after an illness of
3 months, and was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.
So great was his loss felt that the Sun took a remarkable step and announced that
Church was the author of “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” and the
following December the Sun started re-printing the editorial on an annual basis,
many other newspapers followed suit. As a matter of fact other newspapers had
started re-printing it when the Sun didn’t.
The letter that little Virginia sent was mailed back to her by an assistant
editor and is preserved along with the original editorial by the grandchildren
of Virginia O’Hanlon.
What happened to little Virginia---well as all children she grew up, went to
college became a school teacher, married for a short time, had a daughter, and
taught school for 47 years. During her adult life she received many letters
about that remarkable question and she answered every single one and included a
beautifully printed copy of the letter and the editorial reply. She said that
reading that reply in the Sun affected her course in life for the better good.
She died in 1971 at the age of 81 and is buried near Rochester, New York.
It was feared that the letter she wrote was destroyed in a house fire, but some
years later it was found safe and sound, and was shown on Antiques Road Show in
1998 and valued at over $50,000.00 for its remarkableness, but even the antique appraiser conceded that the real value of the letter was priceless.
The brownstone house that Virginia lived when she wrote the letter suffered a
fire some years later and at the time was considered too badly gone to be preserved.
It's true that it was badly deteriorated, but later upon further inspection, it was considered savable. As a matter of fact it has been saved; a New York Times News article, did a story that a college prep private school did a major fund raising effort and bought Virginia’s home and the house next to it. Had it repaired and restored---joined the two
buildings together and made it into their permanent home for their school.
The principal said that it was very interesting that the school was founded the
same year that Virginia O'Hanlon passed away, 1971----that Virginia was a school
teacher for 47 years and now her old home is going to be a school---it was only
right and a proper fitting end to the story.
And the school is also going to put up a memorial placque commemorating the
event of the "Yes Virginia" letter.
As I said a right and proper fitting happy ending to little Virginia's story.
But for us adults it’s better that Virginia always be an 8 year old child in a Victorian skeptical age that asked a simple innocent question to be answered by a man who has seen too many disillusions in life. In doing so it has given them both immortality and it is, perhaps the best description of the true meaning and idea of “Santa Claus” and Christmas.
So without further adieu I give you
“YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS”
Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter
to the editor of New York's Sun, and the quick
response was printed as an unsigned editorial
Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman
Francis Pharcellus Church has since become
history's most reprinted newspaper editorial,
appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages
in books, movies, and other editorials, and on
posters and stamps.
"DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa
"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 [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
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 they 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 may 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.
Thank you Mr. Church.