We’ve all heard the title phrase of this blog – but how many know where it originated? In keeping with the spirit of the season, we’re proud to present this holiday story as it occurred nearly 120 years ago.

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun newspaper and the response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The writer of the famous response was later revealed to be veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church.  Here are photos of the two of them at the approximate time of the event.

The original letter:

Dear Editor:

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?

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 West Ninety-Fifth Street

The published reply follows:

“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 may 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, fancy, 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 he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

What became of the main players of this holiday tradition?

Virginia O’Hanlon passed away at the age of 81 on May 13, 1971, in Valatie, New York.

Writer Francis Pharcellus Church, born in 1839 and the grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier (and himself a Civil War news correspondent) died in New York City in 1906.

The question and answer ran in The New York Sun every year from its initial publication until the paper folded in 1949. (The paper’s name was revived years later for another publication)

And finally, Santa Claus still makes his annual appearance in one form or another across the world.

Until next week, here’s hoping your holidays are happy and that you enjoy the gift of safe digging!

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