Looking Back: Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus
Do you remember writing letters to Santa Claus? As a child, many of us believed in the jolly man from the North Pole. If we were good children, Santa would bring us presents on Christmas day. But there were always those who would shed doubts in our belief. One of the most famous editorials ever to be published is the story of a young Virginia O’Hanion and her quest to know if there really was a Santa Claus.
In 1897, Dr. Philip O’Hanion was asked by his eight-year-old daughter Virginia if Santa Claus really existed. He suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time. He told her that if she saw her answer in the Sun then it must be the true.
On her father’s advice, Virginia wrote a letter to the newspaper to find out if Santa Claus was in fact real. In her letter, she wrote:
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'Hanion115 W. 95th St.
Francis Pharcelllus Church, a senior editor at The Sun, picked up her letter and saw the perfect opportunity to address a larger issue facing the country. Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time that saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. In his moving response to Virginia’s innocent question, Church attributed her friends’ disbelief to being “affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.” His editorial would become the most famous editorial in history, and is still reprinted to this day.
Later in life, Virginia credited the editorial with shaping the direction of her life quite positively. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College in 1910, a Master’s degree in education from Columbia University in 1912 and a doctorate from Fordham University. Throughout her life, she received a steady stream of mail about her letter.
See the original editorial below: