“Is there a Santa Claus?” is a question asked each year by hundreds of children who are trying to grow up and yet not quite ready to give up their beloved childhood Santa. I feel sure that little Virginia O’Hanlon had no idea way back in 1897 that her very simple question and the answer she received would live on long after she departed this world, but it did and it does. Of course, Virginia wasn’t a Texan, but her letter was certainly read by most Texans of the day!
Virginia’s father apparently did not want to be the one to answer his daughter so she took it upon herself to write to the New York Sun for her answer. I’m sure neither of the two suspected what would happen when the Sun published her letter as well as the answer it received.
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?
It fell to crusty editor, Francis P. Church, to provide Virginia the answer to her question. Church wasn’t used to skirting the issue; in fact, he had built a career on attacking the story of the day head on. He had covered the Civil War while working for the New York Times and by the time he received the little girl’s letter, he had worked for the Sun for over 20 years and was known for tackling tough subjects. But this was a little girl….what to do??
Sometimes even crusty, hardened old men cannot bring themselves to disappoint a little girl. Thus was the case with Church who answered Virginia’s letter in the paper.
“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 you 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, 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.”
The Sun reprinted this letter and its answer every Christmas season until the paper went out of business over 50 years later although Church himself died in 1906. Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died May 13, 1971.