One of the things I love about the holidays is some of the great history that comes along with it. I’m an absolute sucker for the History Channel’s documentaries on the stories behind Halloween, Thanksgiving and, of course, Christmas.
The old photos, newspaper clippings, engravings – there’s just something so amazing to not only learn how these traditions we know today came to be (many of which are not what we think), but some of the most iconic moments to come about throughout them.
That’s why I’m so in love with the story of the “Yes, Virginia” letter from 1897. In fact, I even did a reading of it when I was working in broadcasting when I was anchoring the news on Christmas Eve last year. It’s just another one of those things, like my soft spot for “Miracle on 34th Street” that fill you a wonderful feeling of why, whether you’re young or old, a good dose of belief in goodwill and representatives of it, such as Santa Claus, make life a lot less dreary.
The tale has been transformed into films, specials, revealing a continuous interest in this story. There’s even been a relatively-new animated Christmas special airing on television in recent years.
When eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon was beginning to doubt the existence of Santa because of peer pressure from her friends, she took her father at his word that if it’s in the New York Sun, ‘it’s so’ and wrote a letter to the editor of the paper in 1897. That letter read:
“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.
The response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897 and was penned by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church. Since that time, it’s become a part of American folklore at the holidays, and has become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
Church published his response as follows:
“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.”
What a wonderful response. Maybe I’m partial because of my journalism past and I love the idea of a media outlet coming out with such a response to not only support, but boost her belief. It’s the way it should be. In a day and age when it seems so easy to be unhappy or unkind, isn’t it nice to show kids (and us adults), that there’s a little Santa in all of us?
I think so. 🙂