Sunday, December 19, 2010

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Have a Safe & Happy Holiday Season!
Laura Virginia O'Hanlon
From "The New York Sun"
  Tuesday September 21 1897

    Is There a Santa Claus?
We take pleasure in answering at once 
And 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 said '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 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.
Francis Church

  What became of  Virginia O'Hanlon?

    Her letter and the response became famous, though this was not the extent of her life’s work. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University as well as a PhD from Fordham University in New York City, and became a teacher and principal who worked for 43 years before retiring in 1959.
    A New York Times article published June 12, 1959, reports on a retirement dinner given to her — then with her married name, Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas — at which a teacher named Mary Kasansky, who worked at the school where O’Hanlon Douglas was “junior principal,” read the editorial to the 30 guests.
    It noted that the school that she helped run consisted of “classes held in 10 hospitals and other institutions for chronically ill children” and that her “devotion and sensitivity to the needs of her pupils” were highly praised by administrators.
    She died May 13, 1971, at 81. Her New York City childhood home in Greenwich Village became the first home of the Studio School, which now has a scholarship in her name. The Web site says:
"In the tradition of a curious young girl, Virginia, who lived in the house that became our school, we celebrate the promise and fulfillment of every child. The Virginia O’Hanlon Scholarship Fund will make it possible for more children to grow up to believe in themselves, and embrace the journey of learning. Virginia grew up to be an educator and advocate for children’s rights and believed that all children, regardless of social background, should have the same learning opportunities."

Who was Francis Church?

   Born on February 22, 1839, in Rochester, New York, newspaper editor and writer Francis Pharcellus Church wrote one of the most famous newspaper editorials of all time. He penned a response to a young girl's query about the existence of Santa Claus in 1897 that remains popular to this day.
   Francis P. Church was the son of a reverend and the grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier. He graduated from Columbia College (Columbia University) in 1859. For a time, Church considered a career in law, but soon abandoned that idea for a life in media.   
   During the Civil War, Church worked as a war correspondent. He also worked with his brother, William Conant Church, on The Army and Navy Journal. The pair also established a literary publication called Galaxy Magazine in 1869. Contributors to Galaxy included Mark Twain and Henry James.
   By 1897, Francis P. Church was working for the New York Sun. That year he was asked to reply to a letter from an 8-year-old girl named Virginia O'Hanlon asking about Santa Claus. While he wrote many articles and editorials during his lifetime, Church will always be remembered best for his moving commentary on Santa Claus. He died on April 11, 1906, in his New York City home. For a few years, no one really new who wrote the editorial. Because of The Sun's policy of editorial anonymity, it wasn't revealed until after his death. 
   Over the years, Church's defense of Santa Claus has been reprinted numerous times in magazines and newspapers. It has also inspired several books, including the 2001 children's illustrated tale Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus. The story of O'Hanlon's letter and Church's reply have formed the narrative for a number of films, most recently the 2009 television special, Yes, Virginia.


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