On Sept. 21, 1897, The New York Sun published what was to become the most widely read letter to a newspaper. It was sent by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, who lived with her parents in Manhattan. Below is the full text of that letter.
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?
115 W. 95th St.
Sun editorial writer Francis Pharcellus Church’s reply was a 415 word article upholding the good reputation of The Sun (for having the last word on any topic) and answering the little girl’s anguished question with gentleness, wisdom, and imagination.
His famous words, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” are only a small part of his fanciful letter. Other snippets that must have delighted the little girl, were, “Virginia, your little friends are wrong.” and “He exists as certainly as love.”
“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.
“Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there!”
Because the newspaper had a policy of keeping its editorials anonymous, Francis Church was not identified as the author until after his death in 1906.
Virginia O’Hanlon grew up to become a teacher and school administrator. She lived to the age of 81. Her famous correspondence followed her throughout her life. It was run in The New York Sun every year from its initial publication until the paper folded in 1949, as well as in other publications throughout the years.
Her grandson, James Temple, told The New York Sun in 2004 (the paper’s name was later revived), that his grandmother didn’t think she’d done anything special. She told him, “All I did was ask the question … Mr. Church’s editorial was so beautiful … It was Mr. Church who did something wonderful.”
Mr. Church’s confident letter must have encouraged children around the nation to believe. Each year over ONE MILLION LETTERS are mailed to Santa Claus from kids across America. Yes, that’s (mostly) HAND WRITTEN notes and letters, sent via the US Postal Service.
“Letters to Santa” (founded 102 years ago by Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock) and New York City’s own “Operation Santa” are two of the programs where letters written to Santa Claus are answered. Employees, members of the public, charitable organizations and corporations can help USPS respond to the letters at Post Offices around the country.
Some letters from “needy” children can even mean a gift is sent. (Volunteers can “adopt” up to ten of these, upon approval of the USPS and with proper ID, and return the letter with a gift to be mailed to the child.) For details visit: http://1.usa.gov/1EQ8vBo
And while we are talking about the jolly fellow, did you set out a plate of cookies and glass of milk for him when you were a child? Do you do it with YOUR children? Fess up…. do YOU eat the cookies?
When that dreadful time came when you or your kids were told there wasn’t a Santa Claus…. how did you act? (Our son, when told that his dad was really Santa Claus, replied, looking at me, “So does that mean you are Rudolph?”)
Love to hear your experiences in the comments below, or email me at Jackiehouchin@aol.com
A friend of mine who is a lover of Christmas and all things “Santa” wrote two delightful fiction books you might enjoy. The Santa Claus Singer at http://amzn.to/1GmRG33 and Bernard’s Christmas at http://amzn.to/1NgHPMj