"Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus"

by Cie McCullough Buschle on December 23, 2010

in Arts and Culture

altIn 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun, an old New York City newspaper. Oddly enough, it was not written in December, or November, or even early January. It was written on September 21st, well before the Christmas season. The response is now part of the folklore of Christmas for the United States and Canada.

Virginia had begun to doubt the existence of Santa, as most young children do at one time or another. Her friends were teasing her and she went to the smartest man she knew – her father. Mr O’Hanlon may have been busy, or maybe he just didn’t know what to say, but he gave the wisest parental advice in history, "Virginia, if you see it in The Sun, it is so." Which gave Virginia the idea to write to The Sun and ask them; because, whatever the answer was, it would be so.

The letter was simple, direct, and straight to the point:

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?

Virginia O’Hanlon

clip_image001[6]As luck, or fate, would have it the letter was answered by the lead editorial writer, a Mr Francis Pharcellus Church, brother of The Sun’s owner. Church and his brother William had been war correspondents in the American Civil War. During that time the brothers saw great suffering and despair. Many of the soldiers that the Churches interviewed showed a lack of faith, and little or no hope in society.

When Francis saw Virginia’s letter, he saw the chance to not only answer a child’s question, but the chance to help restore a sense of good will among his readers.

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“Is there a Santa Claus?” A reading of the historic editorial on audio file.

Little did Church know it would not only be his readers that would be impacted. Over a century later his one editorial is the single most reprinted article of any English language newspaper. It has been quoted in other editorials, remade into books, movies, TV specials and, this year, an ad campaign. Church died at the age of 67, never having had children, but having brought out the child in each person who reads, or rereads, his great editorial.

And Virginia, having gone on to receive not only a college degree, but a Master’s in Education from Columbia and a Doctorate from Fordham, said that one editorial positively shaped the direction of her life.

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Yes, that Francis P. Church. This is the original letter and response, illustrated by Joel Spector with lovely and soft pastel glimpses into the Victorian world.

| Cie McCullough Buschle lives with her dog Einstein and a cat named Burton Guster. She is a lifelong traveler and enjoys researching history through holidays, toys, and everyday objects. Cie is a sculptor and co-owns The Creative Chameleon, a place where kids and adults can create, paint, celebrate, and just have a lot of fun. Sometimes you can find her time traveling back to the Middle Ages as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

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