Today in History: ‘Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus’

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?—Virginia O’Hanlon, a question published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897

Virginia O’Hanlon, an eight-year-old girl, asked her father one day in the summer of 1897 whether Santa Claus is real.

He suggested she write to the city newspaper, the New York Sun, so she did. Virginia wrote: “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?”

Francis Pharcellus Church, a 58-year-old editor who had been a Civil War reporter and had not married and was not a father, was tasked with composing a reply to Virginia.

On this date in 1897, Church’s unsigned reply, “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus,” was published in the Sun. It remains the most widely reprinted newspaper editorial in history. It is perhaps the only one that has been set to music. He wrote:

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.

Virginia O’Hanlon grew up to become a teacher. She married, became Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas, earned a doctorate from Fordham University, taught for four decades, raised a daughter of her own. In 1969, now an elderly woman, she was living in the Hudson Valley and spent the holidays at the end of that year in a hospital.

A hospital maintenance worker named John Harms every year dressed as Santa Claus to visit the patients unlucky enough to be stuck in a hospital on Christmas Day. When he visited Mrs. Douglas, someone was quick-witted enough to grab a camera to capture the moment when the Virginia who once asked if she could believe in Santa Claus finally “met” Santa:

(Click for full size.)

(Click for full size.)

By then, Francis Church was long gone; he died in 1906 at the age of 67.

Harms (“Santa”) reported many years later that the elderly woman he met in the hospital told him that she “still believes in Santa Claus.”

* * * *
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was published on this date in 1937.

* * * *
Rocky Marciano fought in his last title bout on this date in 1955. He knocked out Archie Moore in the ninth round at Yankee Stadium to retain the heavyweight title. The win gave Marciano a 49-0 career record, a record which stood until 2015. Marciano retired undefeated the following April.

* * * *
H.G. Wells was born on this date in 1866.

* * * *
Leonard Cohen is 82 today. He appeared to be retired, with no updates of note appearing on his web site, no live performances announced, and then in August Sony Music announced that he is releasing an album of new songs, to be entitled You Want It Darker.

“Tower of Song” from 1989, with one of the great stage exits:

* * * *
Bill Kurtis is 76 today. Fannie Flagg is 72. Ethan Coen is 59. Faith Hill is 49 today. Ambassador Samantha Power is 46.

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  1. Itching for Hitching · September 22, 2016

    Thanks for the tears of joy Gad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · September 22, 2016

      I was so glad to have stumbled on the hospital story. I think, in re-reading my telling of it, that I see that it got awful dusty in my room while I was looking at that photo.

      Liked by 1 person

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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