Sun editor’s words still ring so truePublished 12:00am Sunday, December 23, 2012
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word timeless as “having no beginning or end: eternal; b: not restricted to a particular time or date; not affected by time.”
That can certainly be used to define perhaps the best newspaper editorial ever written, a response to a reader 115 years ago.
Even today it shows the impact that newspapers and words can have on our lives and our world. The column captures the spirit of Christmas and remains as poignant, poetic and powerful as the day it was written.
On Sept. 21, 1897, an 8-year-old girl named Virginia was losing her faith in the magic of Christmas. Her belief was waning and the innocence of childhood was being taken from her far sooner than it should have been.
So the child famously turned to the New York Sun newspaper, prompting editor Francis P. Church to respond with the most reprinted newspaper editorial of all time, offering an answer that captures the spirit of Christmas and helps us all find the innocence inside.
As we do each December, we are proud to keep the spirit of Christmas going strong by sharing Virginia O’Hanlon’s letter and the timeless response.
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Pap says, “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 tear apart a baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world, which not 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 supernatural 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 10 times 10 thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.