Yes, Vir­ginia, we do be­lieve

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Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODDRINKING - JBJ REPORTER

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

in

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.

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