Virginia was the daughter of Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In answer to her question “is there really a Santa Claus” her father suggested she write to a New York City newspaper called The Sun.
Virginia’s letter found its way to one of the paper’s editors named Francis P. Church who wrote the now famous response. His answer to Virgina remains today as the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any English language newspaper.
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?
September 21, 1897
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 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 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 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, 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.
Many have questioned if Virigina’s original letter actually ever existed thinking it was only fiction created by Francis Church as a basis for his editorial. However, the original letter written by Virginia O’Hanlon was authenticated in 1998 by an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow and valued at $20,000–$30,000.
I’m grateful for the swell in my chest the little boy inside finds in reading Church’s reply to Virginia over a hundred years ago. The spirit of Santa Claus will always be with me.
There’s more to the truth than just the facts. ~Author Unknown