december 2011



In the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun newspaper, editor Francis Pharcellus Church answered a question posed by an eight-year-old resident of the city’s upper west side, Virginia O’Hanlon: “Is there a Santa Claus?” A former Civil War correspondent who specialized in religious and controversial issues at The Sun, Mr. Church was inspired to respond with the most famous newspaper editorial in American history. In it, the editor went beyond the child’s simple query to uphold the faith that sustains life, confirming that “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.” From that answer came an all-purpose cultural catchphrase.

Virginia O’Hanlon, age eight

Mrs. Laura Virginia O’Hanlon (Douglas) went on to become an educator and a staunch supporter of children’s rights. In 1961, she reaffirmed her belief in the spirit of Santa Claus, saying it “stands for love and sharing, the joy of giving and the extension of it to all people.”

The real Virginia—Mrs. Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas—reads Francis P. Church’s response to her 1897 letter to the New York Sun asking, ‘Is there a Santa Claus?’ This video was shot when Mrs. Douglas was residing in a nursing home in Valatie, NY.



The New York Sun, September 21, 1897

Is There A Santa Claus?

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, 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 external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

The O’Hanlon Home: From this brownstone-trimmed red-brick row house at 115 West 95th Street to The New York Sun traveled the immortal missive that received the reply 'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.' 

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 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 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’s famous correspondence followed her throughout her life. It was published in The New York Sun every year until the paper folded in 1949 (the paper's name was revived years later and is currently in print) as well as countless other publications throughout the years. In 1959, O'Hanlon moved to North Chatham, New York. She was the subject of a tribute by the North Chatham United Methodist Church in 1966. At the celebration, O'Hanlon read her letter and Church's response to an enthusiastic crowd. Her grandson, James Temple, told the The New York Sun in 2004 that she did not think she think that she had done anything special. He said that O'Hanlon told him, "All I did was ask the question . . . Mr. Church's editorial was so beautiful . . . It was Mr. Church who did something wonderful."

Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971.


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