Wednesday, September 8, 2021

"Yes, Virginia, There IS a Santa Claus"

Virginia O'Hanlon as a young girl

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Back in 1897, an eight year old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper, the New York Sun. The reply was written by reporter Francis Pharcellus Church, and published on Sept. 21 of that year.

Here's Virginia's letter:

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?

Francis Pharcellus Church

And here is Pharcellus's answer:

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 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 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 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 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 he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas in later years

This reply has become the most-reprinted newspaper editorial in the English language. Virginia, meanwhile, grew up to serve as a teacher and administrator in New York City schools from 1912 to 1959, and took a doctorate degree in the 1930s. She said that Church's reply had a positive effect on the path she chose in life. She died at age 81 in 1971.


The writer tells Virginia that her friends are wrong, and that they have been affected by the "small-minded" skepticism of the day. The universe is bigger than we can imagine, and we cannot grasp it all.

Yes, he tells her, there is a Santa Claus. He is seen in the love we show one another. A world without this would be as dreary as a world without children.

Believing in Santa Claus is as important as believing in fairies. Even if we cannot see either one, belief in them is a way of believing in all the wonders of the world--even the ones we cannot see.

The strongest of men cannot tear away the fabric between "this world" and "that." The only way to see these things is through faith, imagination, and love. Nothing in this world is as "real" as the things in that world.

Santa Claus (and the ideas he represents) will always be with us to encourage children.

Some Words to Know (for English Language Learners):

  • skeptical: doubting; refusing to believe
  • comprehensible: able to be understood
  • dreary: gloomy; sad; boring
  • extinguished: put out, like a candle; brought to an end
  • conceive: form an idea
  • veil: covering, like brides use in a wedding ceremony. Here, it means something hiding the "unseen" world.
  • supernal: heavenly; higher than earthly things


Vocabulary Exercise

Place the correct word from the list above in each sentence. Answers can be found in the first comment below.

  1. The fog drew a ----- over the city streets.
  2. Most people cannot ----- of a world without hunger or poverty.
  3. The winter weather made the city look -----.
  4. People were ----- of recycling at first, but at last they accepted the importance of properly disposing of their trash.
  5. I'm afraid this book on physics isn't very -----.
  6. The sun filtering through the clouds cast a ----- light over the city.
  7. When I was a kid, my dad usually ----- all the lights before he went to bed.

Questions for Writing or Discussion

  1. Do you believe Santa Claus is "real" in the sense that Church describes him? Why, or why not?
  2. Church suggests we can see a better world through "faith, fancy, poetry, love, [and] romance." Which of these do you think is most important for this task?
  3. Someone once wrote, "Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia." In what sense do you think this might be true? What question or problem might have prompted such a reply?

Creative Projects

  1. How would you reply to Virginia's letter? Write your own editorial.
  2. Imagine Virginia's life in 1897: her room, her toys, her clothes, and so on. Draw or paint her in her setting.
  3. Imagine a meeting between Virginia and Francis Pharcellus Church after his reply was published. What would they say to each other? Write and perform a script of their conversation.

Share your writing, artwork, or performance with me! And let me know if I can share it with others. Use the contact form at the bottom of the page, or post it as a comment here or on one of my social media accounts.


1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Vocabulary Exercise: 1. veil; 2. conceive; 3. dreary; 4. skeptical; 5. comprehensible; 6. supernal; 7. extinguished