“Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus” No Matter What Those Sniveling Brats Say
The most famous editorial ever written was published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897. It didn’t address matters of importance in the city, the country, or even the world at large. The editorial assured a worried eight-year-old child that Santa Claus was indeed real, no matter what her jerky classmates told her.
In September 1897, a little girl named Virginia O’Hanlon was distraught. Some of her school friends insisted that Santa Claus didn’t exist. When she went to her father, Dr. Philip F. O’Hanlon, with her concerns, he suggested she write to the Sun, as the family often did.
So she wrote a letter determined to find out the truth.
“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?
This letter ended up on the desk of veteran Sun writer Francis P. Church, a sardonic, cynical man who had worked for the paper for over twenty years. Allegedly Church “bristled and pooh-poohed” when his editor handed him Virginia’s letter asking him to compose a reply. And yet, he produced a masterpiece that became a beloved holiday touchstone — by his deadline and in under 500 words. Go Francis.
The editorial, which was eventually republished in 20 different languages, certainly hit home with young Virginia and her parents. Virginia recalled during a 1914 interview that, “It used to make me as proud as a peacock to go along in the street in the neighborhood and hear somebody say, ‘Oh, look. There’s Virginia O’Hanlon. Did you see that editorial the New York Sun had about her?’ And father and mother were even prouder than I, I think. They still show the editorial to callers and just talk people’s arms off about it.”
She also remembered her father Dr. O’Hanlon coming home the morning of the editorial’s publication laden down with copies of the paper. “He scattered them all over town, I think, he was so proud.”
Francis P. Church, who authored the article anonymously, died in April 1906.
Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas was an educator for 47 years and died in May 1971 at the age of 81. Throughout her life, she received correspondence regarding her famous letter and replied to each with a lovely copy of the editorial.
The message still resonates just as strongly over a century later. In a nutshell, the essence of Church’s reply:
“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.”
Walks the fine line of giving a child something to believe in without being untruthful— and also reminds adult readers to keep that sense of magic — and compassion — that makes Christmas special, and life worth living.
This is what makes it so enduring.