Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yes, Virginia

Back in The States, I used to periodically cash in on this brush with greatness: when I was in first grade, Virginia O’Hanlon, who was a friend of our teacher, Mrs. Drum, came to our class near the Christmas Holidays and read her famous letter to us. I was impressed even then. I’m more impressed now. But no one else is, especially now that I live in England. So in an attempt to get some more notoriety from this incidental meeting, I’m taking it upon myself to educate the Brits, and remind the Yanks, of what it’s all about:

In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of The Sun (this was a respected newspaper in New York City then, not the rag famous for its page-3 girls) and the response was printed as an unsigned editorial on Sept. 21. The response was the work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, and has since 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.

He rarely gets any credit for it, however.

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
New York City


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.

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  1. Mike,I was one of those people that knew nothing about this. Thanks so much for posting it. You made my day!

  2. Lovely, Mike! I have heard about this all my life! It a wonderful reminder that we should never grow up totally!

  3. Pam and Paula: Yes, it is a lovely story, made even better by the fact that it is true. I feel very fortunate to have met Virginia; she was a very nice woman.

  4. A beautiful story. I wish I had her guts as an eight year old and the editors insight and ability to respond now.

    I just wanted to say thank you for your stories (sorry, that I don't always respond - I reed the RRS feed). I wish you an englicious 2010!

  5. Found your blog through random search. I hit next blog and up came yours. I too love postcards. I love the story about Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus.

  6. Fida: Thanks for you comment, and thanks for reading.

    Judy: Welcome. Hope you like it here.