Yes, Virginia, he still exists 120 years later

Virginia O’Hanlon, circa 1897.
Virginia O’Hanlon, circa 1897. Public domain photo

Years have passed since we last republished what is arguably the best known newspaper editorial ever written.

In honor of its 120th anniversary, and compelled by the cynical times gripping our country, we figured the beloved editorial by Francis Pharcellus Church is well worth regifting to TNT readers on this Christmas Eve.

Church’s defense of the existence of St. Nick, first printed in The New York Sun in 1897, has a timeless quality to it. The original headline, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” remains part of the cultural lexicon today — at least for those of a certain age.

That Church promoted such a hopeful outlook is remarkable in itself. Before he was an editor and publisher at the Sun, he served as a war correspondent during the Civil War and witnessed the awful loss of life and the pain of the Reconstruction period that followed.

But his compassion and understanding of human frailty gave rise to his thoughtful reply to a young girl seeking answers.

Note, too, that Virginia turned to the newspaper because “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.”

It makes one long for a time when reckless cries of “fake news” hadn’t invaded the mainstream like a pathogen.

It makes one long for an era when, even more important than Santa, people believed in fundamental truth and the institutions that fight for it.

The Sun printed Virginia’s letter and Church’s response on the bottom of the page, clueless that they would leave an impression on future generations.

We think they deserve top billing on our page today.

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,

115 West Ninety Fifth Street

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 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.