By Sarita Mehra
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
Imagine the dilemma senior editor, and astute son of a Baptist, Francis Church faced as he sat with a little girl's letter of a controversial nature in his hands. The stuttered, child scrawl innocently looking up at him for the truth about Santa Claus.
Virginia O'Hanlon had always believed in Father Christmas, but when she happened to hear less fortunate children claim he didn't exist, she immediately asked her father. He was naturally evasive, and to clear the burden of responding from his shoulders, he told little Virginia to enquire of The Sun, stating "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."
~ Christmas in 1897 ~
It was an exciting time. Like their counterparts across the Atlantic, Christmas in America was a joyous time spent with family. Christmas cards were a unique aspect of the season by now- postbags stuffed like turkeys with handmade and the more expensive lithographed cards- and children were an important part of the magic of the season. Christmas trees were a feature in most reputable households, no doubt, a myriad of packages sheltered beneath their boughs.
Christmas for the less fortunate has not changed over the years and at the turn of the century orphanages were an integral part of any city. Surely, while young Virginia, her hand held warmly in her mother's, as her little feet scurried to keep up as they hurried along the cobbled streets, the girl's sharp and perceptive mind must have wondered why Santa did not provide extra clothing or toys for the grubby faces that reached out through the hard iron bars that barricaded the poor mites from the gaiety, and richly splendors of the outside world.
~ The Truth Revealed ~
It was going to be a difficult task for Francis Church. He had to fashion a response to the little girl's letter, but how could he when his eyes were marred by the harsh realities of life, and the cruelty of the modern society? How could he keep true to his faith, yet also reassure the innocent young dreams of an eight-year old child?
The Sun published Virginia's letter and Church's response in the Editorial, and it was reprinted every Christmas until 1949, when the newspaper went out of business. Throughout Virginia's life, she received mail about her letter, and with each response she included a copy of the editorial. Virginia O'Hanlon-Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, NY.
~ Spirit of the Season ~
Church's response touched on many aspects of the season that are sometimes lost in the shuffle of presents and parades. He told Virginia:
He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they are abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy… …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.
I imagine the O'Hanlon house must have been especially blessed that year. A crisp Christmas morning frosting the windows, while inside the warmth blossomed like Spring from parents proud of their child's fortitude, and a young girl forever bright with the spirit of Christmas.
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus From the Editorial Page of the New York Sun, 1897
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:
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
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except 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 external 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 you 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 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, 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 lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
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