On September, 21, 1897, the New York Sun newspaper ran what has become the most reprinted editorial of all time (reprinted below). It was in response to a letter written by eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon of Manhattan. She was looking for reassurance that Santa Claus existed and she turned to the Sun for that reassurance. (Can you imagine someone one hundred fifteen years later in our times turning to their local paper for reassurance on anything? Well, they could turn to The Local Paper!)
The story can now be told of what happened to little Virginia after she got her answer from the Sun.
Virginia had a wonderful Christmas that year, but as winter turned to spring she began to wonder about different things. A string of letters to the Sun and other publications followed over the course of the years that followed, inquiring about other characters of lore, myth and fantasy. Characters she’d heard about but hadn’t seen in real life. Characters like the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Superman, Republicans willing to raise taxes, Televangelists not looking for money or self-aggrandizement, flamboyant accountants, and Baby Boomers willing to admit that the Beatles may not in fact be the greatest thing since the invention of perforated toilet tissue.
As Virginia grew older, she realized that she’d been hoodwinked by the Sun and others to whom she’d turned for succor. It was inevitable that she became cynical and curmudgeonly. Instead of focusing on things that perhaps never were, she turned her attention to those things were once accepted as facts but had for various reasons had come into question as perhaps myths. Things like evolution, the willingness of college presidents to control their athletic programs, the ability for people to see a crime being committed, stop it and report it to the police, Hollywood’s ability to produce original material that isn’t based on washed-up television shows and that the United States Congress was actually the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”. She wondered whether the quarterback was in fact a football player or some porcelain doll, only to be looked at and admired from a distance. She looked for guidance on the ability of people to mow their own lawns and rake their own leaves, whether there was actually anything that government didn’t have an interest in trying to fix for us, and whether it was really possible that something bad could happen without it being someone else’s fault and actionable in court. No matter where she turned, no one had any answers. Just head shaking and shoulder shrugging.
So many questions, so few answers.
She considered whether there was ever a scorned or harassed woman who didn’t call Gloria Allred (or take Gloria’s call). She tossed around the old notion that there actually isn’t news being created twenty-four hours a day and there used to be a time when people were left alone to actually do their jobs without being bombarded by the littlest thing turned into the “crisis of the moment.” Not paying the debts you signed up to incur used to be a bad thing, she was almost sure of it, but now the evidence was inconclusive and no one could tell her how that happened or why. She wondered if sportscasters were actually paid by the number of times they said the words “Brett Farve” [sic]. Acting like an idiot used to get you scorn; now it gets you a television contract and a book deal despite the fact that you can neither act, read or write.Virginia wondered how that happened. These were questions no newspaper could answer.
She couldn’t find anyone to help her with her recollection that candidates seeking to be President of the United States were once among the brightest and best people this country had to offer and not a band of deliberately ignorant, skirt-chasing boobs.
Finding no one to answer her more complicated adult questions about what to believe and what to believe in, she dreamt of those innocent days when thinking about the existence of Santa was as complicated as it got.
Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus, but even he would have trouble fixing what we’ve done to ourselves.
. . . . .
“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?
“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 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.