One hundred-seven years ago on September 21, 1897, there appeared an editorial in The New York Sun which has since become a classic of American Christmas-lore.
It was titled "Is There a Santa Claus?" and was written by Francis Pharcellus Church, who was born in Rochester, New York, on February 22, 1839, and died in New York on April 11, 1906. The origin of the Santa Claus article is best described by Edward P. Mitchell, who was in charge of The Sun's editorial page when the article was written. Mr. Mitchell says in his Memoirs of an Editor:
"For thirty-five years and until his death in 1906 Frank Church was a regular contributor to The Sun's editorial page. His lifetime lasted for four years beyond the date when I became editor-in-chief and for that period he was my alternate. There was never a more delightful associate. Quick of perception of the interesting in every phase of human activity except politics (for which he cared little, bless his soul!), there was in his features something of that gentlemanly pugnacity seen in the faces of the type of Richard Olney's and Thomas Nelson Page's--a latent aggressiveness that marred neither the delicacy of his fancy nor the warmth of his sympathies.
"One day in 1897 I handed to him a letter that had come in the mail from a child of eight, saying: 'Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?' Here little friends had told her No. Church bristled and pooh-poohed at the subject when I suggested that he write a reply to Virginia O'Hanlon; but he took the letter and turned with an air of resignation to his desk. In a short time he had produced the article which has probably been reprinted during the past quarter of a century, as a classic expression of Christmas sentiment, more millions of times than any other newspaper article ever written by any newspaper writer in any language. Even yet no holiday season approaches without bringing to the newspaper requests from all over the land for the exact text for repeated use on Christmas Day."
Here is the complete and original copy:
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 says `If you see it in The Sun it's so.'
Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
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 tear apart the baby's rattle and see that 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 would 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.
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