Wednesday, 22 December 2010
In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia O'Hanlon (1889–1971) whether Santa Claus really existed.
O'Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."
He unwittingly gave one of the paper's editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophy of the question and the |philosophical issues behind it.
In 1897, the eight-year-old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to The New York Sun asking: "Please tell me the truth: is there a Santa Claus?" The answer she received--"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"--is one of the most widely reprinted newspaper editorials of all time, appearing in dozens of languages, and in books, movies, posters, and greeting cards. The author of "Yes, Virginia," veteran newsman and Sun editorial writer Francis Pharcellus Church, turned out a 500-word reply, printed on September 21, 1897.
Editorial Page, New York Sun, September 21, 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:
Virginia O'Hanlon 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?
The Editor replied as follows:
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 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 can 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 so 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.
Virginia O’Hanlon circa 1895