This is a story about faith, love, beauty and romance.
In 1897, little Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the following letter to the New York Sun:
“I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Pap says, ‘If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”
Virginia’s letter was given to Francis P. Church, a childless editor who wrote the following magical editorial response to Virginia’s letter.
New York Sun Editorial
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 to the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole 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 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 external 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 they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in this world.
You tear apart a baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest men, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside the 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.
Church would write many articles and editorials during his distinguished career, but none more famous than his letter to Virginia. He passed away on April 11, 1906, at age 67.
O’Hanlon went on to earn a master’s degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Fordham University. She had a distinguished career as an educator and school administrator. She married Edward Douglas, but he ran out on her before the birth of their daughter, Laura. She would later divorce him. In 1959, she moved from New York City to North Chatham. She was 81 when she died on May 13, 1971.
O’Hanlon’s childhood home at 115 W. 95th St., New York, now houses The Studio School, which is a private school for gifted students. Both O’Hanlon and Church would approve.