PD Editorial: Yes, Virgina: Editor’s response still teaching skeptics

This famous editorial didn’t run on Christmas as legend would have it. It appeared on Sept. 21. It was the seventh editorial on the page. Nonetheless, it was an instant sensation.|

Editorial writers tend to be a curmudgeonly lot. Francis Pharcellus Church was no exception. The editorial writer and columnist for the New York Sun was said to be sarcastic, sometimes disdainful.

The son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and liked to get straight to the point. He was always willing to take on tough issues. His motto was “Endeavour to clear your mind of cant.’’ So it’s not hard to imagine how he responded in 1897 when he was assigned to respond to a letter from a young girl, Virginia O’Hanlon, who asked: Is there a Santa Claus?

He was, to say the least, vexed. His editor said he “bristled.’’ But he wrote it anyway.

The editorial didn’t run on Christmas Day. It appeared on Sept. 21. It was the seventh editorial on the page. Nonetheless, his response was an instant sensation. So much so, the newspaper reprinted it every year on Christmas Day until the Sun folded in 1949. Even now, it remains one of the most celebrated editorials in history.

So we thought it would be appropriate to reprint it today.

By the way, it is worth noting that Francis P. Church was married shortly after this editorial was first published. But he never had children.

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?

- Virginia O’Hanlon

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 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 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.

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.

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