[Masthead] Light Rain ~ 42°F  
High: 54°F ~ Low: 42°F
Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Story Behind 'Yes, Virginia'

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The most famous editorial in American journalism was published 112 years ago in The (New York) Sun, as a reply to a letter from 8-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon.

The editorial was titled "Is There a Santa Claus?" and its most memorable passage was this reassuring declaration: "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Since the editorial's first publication in 1897, a fair amount of myth and misunderstanding have surrounded it. One common belief is that "Is There a Santa Claus?" was an immediate hit and was enthusiastically reprinted in The Sun every year until the newspaper folded in 1950.

In fact, The Sun republished the editorial just twice in the 10 years immediately following its initial publication. And when it did reprint the editorial, The Sun was a bit snippy about it, saying on one occasion: "Scrap books seem to be wearing out."

But readers' persistence eventually won out. Over the years, thousands wrote to The Sun, imploring the editors to reprint the editorial. Finally, some 25 years after its first appearance, "Is There a Santa Claus?" began appearing regularly every Dec. 23 or 24.

Another myth lies in the editorial's inspiration.

The Sun first published the editorial on Sept. 21, 1897. Many historians have assumed that Virginia wrote her letter that month, as the school year began in New York City. They believed that schoolmates had teased Virginia about believing in Santa Claus, which prompted her to ask The Sun: "Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?"

New research suggests Virginia wrote and mailed her letter in July 1897, shortly after her eighth birthday, but The Sun misplaced or overlooked it for several weeks. Virginia told relatives years later that she waited and waited for a reply and had given up by the time the editorial was finally published. The Sun's editor later said the editorial was written in less than a day by a self-effacing journalist named Francis P. Church, a veteran editorial writer at The Sun.

Virginia also recalled that after the birthdays of her childhood, she would wonder constantly about what gifts Santa Claus would bring her in December. So it was the anticipation and excitement of a young girl, writing soon after her summertime birthday, that inspired what has become American journalism's classic editorial.

Here is the original letter and editorial as it appeared in the Sun :

"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 [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 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.