“We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun,” begins one of the most memorable and reprinted editorials in English of all time. The initial query — “Is here a Santa Claus?” — was written by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon of Manhattan, New York, the daughter of a coroner’s assistant. When the letter arrived at The Sun, its editor, Edward Mitchell, handed it to veteran writer, Francis Pharcellus Church, a graduate of Columbia College and a former war correspondent during the American Civil War and saw its cost in human lives. Church, whose motto was “endeavor to clear your mind of cant” initially scoffed at responding to a child’s letter. But like any good journalist, he carefully contemplated the assignment and wrote an eloquent response (the editorial was printed on September 21, 1897) that spoke to children and adults for all time. Using the paradigm of the internet world, Church’s response was like a video that went viral.
More than a century later, his words still resonate with readers young and old — a testament to Church’s brilliant writing. In a New York Times article, celebrating the editorial’s centennial, William David Sloan, a journalism professor at the University of Arkansas, explained its enduring value: ‘’Had [Church] denied Santa Claus, he might have torn down the fanciful world of many youngsters and tampered with the values and traditions many people consider important. Had he affirmed Santa Claus matter-of-factly, he would have contributed no ideas of lasting significance. What Church did was sustain a child’s hope while giving her a statement of ideals that are worthwhile for the adult. He did not simply continue a myth. He gave a reason for believing.’’
Below is the full text of the editorial:
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? — Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West 95th Street, [Manhattan, New York]
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 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 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.
For further reading: www.nytimes.com/1997/09/21/weekinreview/yes-virginia-a-thousand-times-yes.html. wikipedia.