Editorial From Past Celebrates Santa

by Tyler Murphy
Columnist

As this will be the Rambler’s last issue before we break for the holidays, I want to devote my column space again this year to one of my favorite Christmas classics.

In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon struggled with one of childhood’s most daunting questions: “Is there a Santa Claus?” Not satisfied with the negative responses of her cynical friends at school, she asked her father. Rather than taking on such a delicate topic, her father suggested Virginia pose the question to their local newspaper, The New York Sun, reminding her that, “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.” Little did they know then that her letter and the paper’s response would endure to strike the heartstrings of children and adults alike more than a century later.

The Sun’s veteran newsman, Francis Pharcellus Church, received Virginia’s question and agreed to tackle it on the pages of what was then one of New York’s most serious broadsheets. Church had previously served as a war correspondent during the Civil War and chose to address the philosophical and emotional implications of Virginia’s question. His enlightened and elegant work has left a lasting impact and has since become the most reprinted editorial to run in any English newspaper in history.

Enjoy Church’s insights – first published on Sept. 21, 1897 – as we reprint once again in the Rambler his classic editorial, now a centerpiece of holiday folklore:

“We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of 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.”

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