Author’s program note: September 21, 1897, the editor of the New York Sun ran an unsigned editorial in the form of a letter to the editor and that editor’s response. The title of this article was “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”, and it long ago became the world’s most reprinted article, particularly at the Christmas season.
The 8-year girl who wrote the letter (and, yes, she was a real person) achieved by a simple question an ineradicable place in history, a place any number of kings and queens, politicians and generals might have envied. For the question was not glib… and neither was its response.
This response was written by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church, and you can find the complete text in any search engine; the message can be read profitably by all good people though well over a century has passed since it was penned.
Its essential message is found in these lines: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exits 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.”
Here’s how this all got started.
In 1897, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, a coroner’s assistant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was asked by his daughter Virginia (1889-1971) whether Santa Claus really existed. He paused for just a moment, as if he were considering the matter for the first time. Then, he advised her to write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper. “If you see it in The Sun,” he assured her, “it’s so.” Thus he unwittingly provided Francis Pharcellus Church an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it.
Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, the bloodiest war to date; one which caused doubt, disillusion, despair. Many wrote off the noble experiment of the Great Republic as a failure; hope was in short supply. Church was given a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity to combat this negativity… to reassure his fellow countrymen and remind them of all the good things that they had… if only they would scrutinize carefully, perceive what they saw, and remind themselves of the verities on which the Great Republic was founded and which are available to every citizen. Santa Claus became his apt metaphor.
Grand thoughts, fustian idiom.
Church was a mid-Victorian… which meant, by our leaner, sharper standards, that he was verbose, his prose not merely purple, but cloying, lush, overwritten, prolix. His final paragraph makes all this very clear:
“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 still continue to make glad the heart of childhood.” Today’s readers grow quickly impatient , intolerant to exasperation, with such prose; thus the baby is thrown out with the bath water; Church’s important message torpedoed by his over ripe words and the period style our 19th century ancestors found so arresting, dedicated as they were to the bombastic, sonorous and grandiloquent. This will never do.
Thus since Church is no longer here to update his work, I appoint myself to do so, not to reinvent the wheel but to show what an author of our time can do to keep his message relevant and evergreen, important, not dismissed as old hat, the histrionic rhetoric of the Gilded Age. I hope Church smiles benignly on this attempt, for he was a man whose respect was worth having.
Virginia’s letter to me, December 11, 2011.
Dear Dr. Lant,
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in Dr. Lant’s articles, it’s so”. Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon 115 West Ninety-Fifth St.
My response to Virginia, December 12, 2011.
First of all let me thank you most sincerely for taking the time to write to me and for your confidence in me and my articles. Smart readers like you, young and old, are what keeps me on my toes, and I account you not only a reader, but a young friend.
I can tell you are troubled by what your friends are saying. That is understandable. Many people, perhaps including some of your friends, go out of their way to hurt others by selfish, unconsidered, and hurtful remarks. I can tell right away that you are not such a person, and that is good news indeed and why I have answered you so promptly.
Being the smart and sensitive young lady you are, I know you are not only thoughtful about what you say and how you say it, but take what people say, unless you are sure of them, with a grain of salt; in other words you don’t believe everything you hear and read… instead you use your own mind to evaluate. That is always the best way and is what we like so much in our Great Republic, in other words our citizens rely on their own judgement. As you will when you finish this letter and consider what I have confided to you. Let’s consider for a moment the people, and sadly there are many such, children and adults, too, who tell everyone Santa Claus doesn’t exist. They point to the turbulent state of the world… wars in far away places we never heard of… people, good people too, without shelter or food… all the people who are ill and have no money for treatment, including children your age, even some in your very neighborhood. They say, and they are very loud about telling people like you, that this is proof positive that there is not now nor has there ever been a person called Santa Claus.
And now, as the friend you wrote to seeking truth and reassurance, I tell you that these people, each and every one of them, are wrong, wrong, wrong. And now I tell you why… because Santa Claus is the embodiment of every good thought, every good deed, every good wish and every good action no matter by whom, where, or when. Santa Claus represents the sum total of everything good in this often turbulent, unhappy, despairing world of ours. Santa Claus takes all good elements and puts them to work combating the bad and working tirelessly for the good — for the improvement of human kind and everyone in it, even those poor souls who say he doesn’t exist and won’t help him in his tireless ways.
I know, dear Virginia, that you want to help Santa Claus in his great and important work, because you are a dear girl who cares for others and who wishes to help Santa do that, which is much more than just delivering Christmas presents down chimneys and taking care of his flying reindeer.
You see, Virginia, Santa Claus represents the best in all of us, and he knows that working together we make the world, every day, a better place, a place of good substance and good cheer for all. Today, now that you are sure of the existence of Santa Claus and his good works, I urge you to join his team. Do a little good today, Virginia, and not just at Christmas, but every day you want the world to be better… and help the Jolly Old Elf for he relies so on sweet children like you… and even “seen everything” commentators like me. We are all so grateful to you, Miss Virginia, and your kind nature, which prompted your concern and letter.
Merry Christmas from me and from all of us at Worldprofit, where the Christmas spirit is not the thing of a day, but of every day. It is my pleasure to thank you for giving me the much needed opportunity to say so and to recommit my own energy and zeal… and may God and Santa Claus bless you as you truly deserve.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
About the Author
Now with near seven decades of a successful writing career, Dr. Lant is, he likes to say, in the prime of his prime. Thus does the “scribbling” life he commenced at age
5 continue. Twenty books. Thousands of articles. Untold radio and television programs;
worldwide recognition and enthusiasm, all of which culminated in the publication of
his autobiography, “A Connoisseur’s Journey, being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck and joy”. It was a book that screamed “classic!”, and he has
delighted in the several awards that followed.
To get your copy go to www.writerssecrets.com. You will also want to join his writing course and learn from this master communicator just how you can improve everything
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