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One hundred and nine years ago today

Much as I love Atlanta and the South, even I must admit that, once in a great while, a good idea does come from somewhere else. One of the greatest of all ideas came from a newspaper in New York.

It came from a question asked by one of its youngest readers, and from the man that fate—and the editors of the New York Sun—chose to answer it.

When controversial questions arrived at the New York Sun, they were forwarded to Mr Francis P. Church. He was a Baptist minister’s son who had covered the Civil War for the New York Times, but he’d spent over twenty years since then writing for the Sun. On Monday, September 20, 1897, a letter crossed his desk.

Mr Church, it is said, didn’t want to answer it, but his editor insisted. His response appeared on Tuesday, September 21.

It was reprinted every year since, until the day the paper folded.

It was then, and is now, the custom for newspaper editorials to appear without a byline. So for years, no one knew who had written it. But because the reader's name and address was on her letter, she received many inquiries about her most famous writing assignment... and until her death seventy-four years later, she answered each one with a copy of Mr Church’s reply.

That reply now belongs to all of us... and to every child who ever asked this question.

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?

Signed, 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 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 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.

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.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
dslartoo
Sep. 23rd, 2006 03:18 am (UTC)
I do love that story. I had forgotten that the letter was published in September, since it tends to show up (not surprisingly) around Christmastime. Thanks for the reminder.

cheers,
Phil
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )