This column originally ran on Dec. 14, 1997.

Several years ago, about this time, an envelope mysteriously showed up on my desk at a small newspaper in southern Illinois. In the upper left corner, where the return address usually is printed, was the single word: “Virginia.”

I opened it curiously, and there, inside, was a simple note.

“Dear Mr. Lyons,” it said, “Please tell us the truth, is there a Santa Claus? If we see it in The Evening News, it’s so!”

Attached was a laminated copy of the classic editorial, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa,” written by Francis P. Church in 1897 for the New York Sun.

Looking it over, I had to smile. I didn’t know if my mysterious correspondent expected me to try my hand at answering the same question posed to Mr. Church by an 8-year-old girl a century ago, but I quickly shied away from any notions of tackling that assignment.

Francis Pharcellus Church’s reply is as timeless a piece of journalism as has ever been written. It would have been presumptuous of me to offer any words on this subject other than the ones penned by Church himself.

Everyone involved in this wonderful story is long since deceased. Church, a Civil War correspondent for the New York Times before joining the Sun as a writer specializing in theological and controversial subjects, died in 1906.

The little girl who wrote the letter, Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas, died in 1971 after a successful career as a teacher and administrator in the New York City school system.

The New York Sun itself died in 1950.

But long after they’re gone, little Virginia’s letter, and Church’s classic reply, live on. I can’t think of a better way to honor Church’s timeless editorial than to reprint it today:


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

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 around 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 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.

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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