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Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus History

About the famous newspaper editorial about whether or not Santa Claus is real with the classic line Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.

YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS

Until you were 7 or 8 years old, you knew there was a Santa Claus. Then, before another Christmas, some cynic told you otherwise, stunned you with adult reality, insisted you face the face that Santa was a make-believe, a myth, a wish, no more. The moment of terrible truth. You wavered, trying to cling to the past before being torn into the grown-up world.

One bleak autumn day in 1897, a little New York girl named Virginia O'Hanlon came up against this disillusionment. In desperation, she went to her father for the final word. Her father, Dr. Philip F. O'Hanlon, consulting surgeon to the N.Y. Police Department, was too wise to tackle the question alone. As Virginia recalled the search for truth 36 years later:

"Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn't any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

"It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so,' and that settled the matter.

"'Well, I'm just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,' I said to father.

"He said, 'Go ahead, Virginia. I'm sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.'"

And so Virginia sat down and wrote her parents' favorite newspaper.

Her letter found its way into the hands of a veteran editor, Francis P. Church. Son of a Baptist minister, Church had covered the Civil War for The New York Times and had worked on The New York Sun for 20 years, more recently as an anonymous editorial writer. Church, a sardonic man, had for his personal motto, "Endeavor to clear your mind of cant." When controversial subjects had to be tackled on the editorial page, especially those dealing with theology, the assignments were usually given to Church.

Now, he had in his hands a little girl's letter on a most controversial matter, and he was burdened with the responsibility of answering it.

"Is there a Santa Claus?" the childish scrawl in the letter asked. At once, Church knew that there was no avoiding the question. He must answer, and he must answer truthfully. And so he turned to his desk, and he began to write his young correspondent, and what he wrote was to become one of the most memorable editorials in newspaper history.

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