'Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus'

The iconic 1897 editorial still resonates today.

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A man portraying Santa Claus talks to 6-month-old Aubree-Jane Halladay, of Scarborough, Maine, at a mall in South Portland, Maine on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013. Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said depictions of Santa Claus as a white man came about mainly because he was a European import, a blend of the Dutch Sinterklaas and British folklore character Father Christmas, with elements of Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century Greek bishop in modern-day Turkey.
Santa Claus talking to a child.

Back in 1897, young Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the editor of the New York Sun asking:

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?

Signed,

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 West Ninety-Fifth Street

NYC.

[ 2013: The Year in Cartoons]

 The response, an unsigned editorial later attributed to the legendary Francis Church, may be the most reprinted news copy of all time:

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 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.

[ Check out our gallery of political cartoons.]

During the holiday season and throughout the coming year, let us all try to reach for that same kind of childlike faith that resides in all of us. 

Merry Christmas.