Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus: The Story Behind the Famous Christmas Letter and the Girl Who Wrote It
Over 120 years later, the magic of her letter lives on.
Back in 1897, a little girl found herself wondering if Santa Claus was real. You see, some of her friends had suggested that Santa Claus was make believe and she wasn’t sure what to do with that information. Then the eight-year old remembered something her father always said, “If you see it in The Sun it’s so.”
So, young Virginia O’Hanlon decided to pen a letter in careful cursive handwriting to the New York Sun to settle the matter of Santa Claus once and for all. “Please tell me the truth,” she wrote. “Is there a Santa Claus?"
The editors at The Sun received the letter and published a response, telling Virginia that her “little friends” were wrong, young victims of “skepticism of a skeptical age.”
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” editorial writer Francis P. Church wrote in the newspaper, although at the time the article was anonymous. “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.”
With those words, the existence of Santa Claus was proven for Virginia and a generation of children who also believed that because they had seen it in The Sun “it was so.”
Little Virginia O’Hanlon’s Christmas question and the thoughtful response published in the paper has become a Christmas story in its own right. In the many years since it was published, it’s been regularly trotted out to quell the doubts of any youngsters by Christmas-loving parents hoping to keep the magic alive just a little longer. The letter, which was translated into 20 languages, inspired children’s books and a movie, a musical, and songs. It also may have inspired young Virginia to grow up and become a teacher.
According to The Washington Post throughout her life, Laura Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas, which was her married name, would talk about the letter to others, even reciting it to young children. As she grew, the letter was no longer just proof of Santa’s existence, but a guiding light of sorts.
“The older I get, the more I appreciate its philosophy,” she once explained, The Washington Post reports. That philosophy of believing in something even at a skeptical age may have even inspired her to become a teacher.
CBS News tracked down O’Hanlon’s family in 2018 and they explained that she was "a modern woman” who was very “ahead of her time." In the early 1900s, she earned a master’s degree and then a doctorate in education. She then spent decades as a school teacher and principal in New York City. While she passed away in 1971 at the age of 81, the magic of her letter lives on.
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Not only does O’Hanlon’s great grandson have the letter to share with his own two children, but O’Hanlon’s legacy lives on at the school that was since founded in her childhood home, and The Sun’s words continue to ring true for a new generation of kids growing up in a skeptical age.