The Santa Editorial was printed in The Sun newspaper on September 21, 1897. It answered an eight-year old girl’s letter asking if Santa Claus was real. The girl was Virginia O’Hanlon. Editor Francis Pharcellus Church wrote what became one of the most famous editorial responses in American journalism. His 416-word response included the line: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.
While Church did not receive credit for his Santa editorial until his death in 1906, his work was reprinted in New York newspapers. To this day, it is the most widely reprinted editorial in English. It has also been translated into languages and inspired films, musicals and television specials.
Following are a few glowing highlights about their exchange and the wave of holiday hope that the Santa Editorial unleashed. To this day, the phrase “Yes Virginia, there is a…” can refer to anything people need or want to believe.
It Started With A Child Seeking Truth
Virginia O-Hanlon was born on July 20, 1889. (It was also the year Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland raced to beat the fictional record around the world in 80 days.) She grew up near the spot where Clement Clarke Moore wrote the verse that begins “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
In , “Virginia Tells of Santa Query 61 Years Past” by H.D. Quigg, for The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah on December 22, 1958, Virginia (O’Hanlon) Douglas recalled her story.
At eight she came home from public school 93 with word that some of her little friends were saying there is no Santa Claus. She put it squarely to her father.
“My dear father was always a great pal of mine. I felt he was being equivocal in the way he was answering—he wasn’t saying yes with conviction, and he wasn’t saying no. I told him I was going to ask our family newspaper the Sun. Papa was delighted—it was an out for him.” (Deseret News-December 22, 1958)
At eight years old Virginia wrote the Sun:
“ 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?”
NOTE: Some doubters over the years have questioned whether or not a child would refer to her friends as “little”. Did Virginia’s father help her? Either way, the letter launched something bigger than they ever imagined possible, much like Santa himself.
The Sun Finally Printed An Answer
Virginia later recalled she had waited so long for the answer that she forgot about her letter.
According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Church did not want to answer the letter. He wrote his Santa Editorial in a single afternoon.
The first word of the Santa editorial came from a friend who contacted Virginia’s father. The now-famous answer assured Virginia and generations of believers that there is indeed a Santa Claus.
“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. ..
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. ..
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. .. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. ..
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.” Read full text here.
Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas never met the author of the Santa editorial, although he was a neighbor in the summer.
“You see, it wasn’t known until he died that he wrote it. Everybody thought Mr. Dana, the editor, wrote it.”
Santa Claus Was Relatively New To America
When Virginia was a girl, Christmas was still evolving into the holiday as we know it today. Christmas trees were relatively new. Electric Christmas lights were new on the scene. And Santa was undergoing a makeover.
In 1822 Clement Clarke Moore published the long Christmas poem he wrote for his daughters. He titled it “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” This work established the Victorian Santa image we know today. Moore described a portly “right jolly old elf” who could launch down chimneys with the nod of his head.
In 1881 Political cartoonist Thomas Nast used Moore’s poem to create what became the definitive Santa. It first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. By now, Santa’s style was clearly defined. He wore a red suit trimmed in white and had a workshop at the North Pole teeming with elves.
And yes, there was a Mrs. Claus.
Take Note: Mrs. Claus eventually asserted her rights.
Why Did Church Refer to Skepticism ?
It was a time when science was blossoming and Festive Science shows were the rage at Christmas. It’s no wonder that Church’s Santa Editorial addressed the mood of the era.
Little Virginia O’Hanlon was not the only person in America looking for meaning in the rapidly changing world. But a child’s simple query and a well-written response bring comfort and hope to this day.
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