This is the time of the year when many newspapers publish letters to Santa written by children. They ask for toys or puppies. Sometimes, however, their pleas involve much more serious matters. There is one letter from a child, published more than a century ago, that continues to tug at our heartstrings during this festive season.
It was from 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who wanted to know if Santa Claus really existed.
Her father, unprepared to answer the question himself, suggested Virginia write to the editors of The (New York) Sun, which was one of the most influential newspapers in the country at that time.
The child’s letter and a response from the newspaper appeared in the Sun as an editorial on Dec. 21, 1897.
The editorial was the work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, and has since become one of the most reprinted editorials in the history of newspapers.
In fewer than 460 words, Church (a battle-hardened veteran of the Civil War) provided such a lasting argument for Santa that has become a joy to revisit each Christmas.
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 W. 95th St., New York City.
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 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.