The history behind an iconic letter
It’s not every day that a child’s letter makes it into the Library of Congress Research Guide, but that’s exactly what happened to eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon’s handwritten note.
O’Hanlon had a serious issue. In 1897, some of her friends questioned the validity of Santa Claus. The little girl went straight to a trusted source — her dad. He suggested she write a letter to the editor of The Sun, a prominent New York newspaper, saying, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”
The letter arrived on the desk of Francis Church, and he wrote back — publicly. Ironically, Church was a hardened man. Described as an atheist, cynic and man with little patience for superstitious beliefs on the 20th century radio program “The Rest of the Story,” he didn’t want to write the response. Church didn’t even sign his name. As fate would have it, the piece resonated with readers and became the most reprinted editorial in the English language.
In the letter, the editor explained every crack in Virginia’s friends’ theory. He claimed they were affected by skepticism, that just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and that Santa will remain in perpetuity.
If someone asks you about Santa this season, you can respond in the same way as Church: “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.”
Read the full text of Virginia’s editorial, as well as Church’s response:
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?
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 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 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.