Yes, Virginia, we do believe
DO you believe Christmas?
Sometimes when kids get to be seven or eight they wonder if Father Christmas – or Santa Claus – really exists. Does he really come down the chimney, do you even have a chimney? And does he really leave presents for you in your stocking or your pillow slip?
Kids have been wondering this for a long time. More than a 100 years ago, in 1897, an eight-yearold girl called Virginia O’hanlon of New York asked her dad if Santa Clause really existed.
Dr Philip O’hanlon suggested the she send her question to The Sun, a New York newspaper.
So Virginia sent off her letter. She wrote: “Dear Editor: I am eight 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
Father there a Santa Claus? “Virginia O’hanlon 115 West 95th Street.” One of the editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, decided to reply to Virginia. He wrote an editorial – that’s the arti- cle in which a newspaper editor can give an opinion.
Mr Church wrote in a rather old-fashioned way – he was writing more than a 100 years ago – but he was very clear.
“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except (what) they see...
“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 c o u r s e 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…
“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.”
Many people were touched by Mr Church’s editorial. It has been reprinted many times, and is said to be the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the English language. Virginia, who had a daughter called Laura, grew up to be a teacher. She died in 1971.
Soon after her death some friends published a book called Yes, Virginia, and later Warner Brothers made a TV show based on Virginia’s letter and the editorial.
In February 2001 Dstv’s History Channel ran a programme about Virginia, and said she had given the original letter to her granddaughter, who pasted it in a scrapbook.
The letter was found, and in 1998 Kathleen Guzman, an expert on the Antiques Roadshow, a TV programme about antiques, said it was worth between $20 000 and $30 000.
Virginia had post about the letter and the editorial all her life.
Every year since 2008, Macy’s, the American department store, has run a charity campaign called Believe, based on Virginia’s letter. This year in its Christmas shop the store is selling a book about Virginia.
Not bad for an eight-year-old kid who wrote a letter more than 100 years ago.
CHRISTMAS QUEST: In 1897, Virginia O’hanlon wrote a letter to the Sun newspaper to find out if Santa exists.
NEWSMAN: Francis Pharcellus Church wrote a response to Virginia in The Sun.