Editor’s Note: I publish this post every year at Christmas.
In 1897, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia (1889–1971), whether Santa Claus really existed.
O’Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” He unwittingly gave one of the paper’s editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it.
Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time that saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the page, below even one on the newly invented “chain-less bicycle”, its message was very moving to many people who read it. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.
Dear Editor – I am eight 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 West Ninety-fifth St.
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 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 our 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 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 n ot, but that’s not proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and un-seeable 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 supernatural glory and beauty 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 the times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.