Francis Pharcellus Church, the Little Girl and Santa Claus


(I  publish this each year before Christmas.  It evokes sweet memories of Christmases past when my children were young.)



Francis Pharcellus Church was a newspaper man to his marrow.  As a young man he had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and with his brother William he founded the Army and Navy Journal which dedicated itself to reporting news about the military forces of the United States, along with historical pieces on US military history, and opinion pieces about innovations or reforms in the military.  It is still being published today.

After the War he served as lead editorial writer on his brother’s newspapers the New York Sun.  He died in 1906 at 67, leaving behind no children.  Although he lived a full life, he would be all but forgotten today except for one incident.

In 1897 Virginia O’Hanlon was upset.  She was eight years old and some of her friends had been telling her that there was no Santa Claus.  Her father, Dr. Philip O’Hanlon, suggested that she write to the Sun and see what that newspaper had to say.  Virginia followed her advice and duly wrote the letter.  Mr. Church wrote the reply to the letter which appeared on September 21, 1897 in the New York Sun.


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, 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.

The Sun would reprint the editorial each year until it ceased publication in 1949.  Virginia went on to earn a Phd from Fordham and taught for 47 years in New York City, eventually becoming a principal.  She died in 1971 at 81.  Whenever she received a letter asking about her Santa Claus letter she would send out an elaborately printed copy of the answer she cherished all her life.  As predicted by Mr. Church, Santa continues to make glad the heart of childhood.

More to explorer


  1. We are privileged.
    For the faithful who have gone before us.
    Those who raised us.
    The ones who now continue to fan the embers within our hearts, keeping the spirit of Hope, Faith and Charity alive in us.
    To all of them
    and you.

    God bless you.

    12We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know I part; but then I shall know even as I am known. 13And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.

    1st Corinthians 13:12,13

    Thanks Mr. Donald McClarey.
    This mornings coffee tastes better than usual.
    Yes indeed…there is a Santa Claus.

  2. It’s funny– I can break it down and view the answer as a possibly cynical attempt at an out in a very tough situation, I can even see the working parts so to speak, but…I’m still choked up by the second line, and crying by the end.

    That is some very good writing, that touches something important.
    One of the ways we explained Santa to our kids– never doing the elaborate “look, Santa was here!” thing– is that Santa, Saint Nicholas, makes it so we can give gifts without any strings attached. Just like Saint Nicholas bought the girls’ freedom, but couldn’t just walk up and do it– we can see something that is PERFECT for a person, and give it to them. They know who bought it, and we know, but saying “this is from Santa” means that there is no expectation of the other person matching the gift. There’s fair– your friend lets you play with their toys, you let them play with yours– and then there’s gifts that can’t be matched, and are there for the love; what is more Christmas appropriate than that?

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