Francis Pharcellus Church, the Little Girl and Santa Claus

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(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.

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

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.

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3 Comments

  1. Late 80s at Cubi Pt in Dec.:
    Eldest son, age 8: “Sean says there’s no Santa Claus! He says he and his brother Ryan get the presents from their parents.”
    Me: ” But you and Lawrence receive presents on Christmas from Daddy and me AND Santa Claus.”
    Eldest son: “Hmmm I think I’ll go write my letter to Santa.”

  2. My oldest is a h.s. freshman (b. 7/04 —some days I wonder if we should have held her back/red-shirted her) and I really don’t know if she’s stopped believing in Santa Claus or not. I don’t have the heart to disillusion her because her innocence is so precious and beautiful to me, and I don’t want her to lose that before she’s ready to give it up. (Meaning, I’ll tell her the truth if she asks, but I won’t volunteer it).

    Honestly, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing or not. I stopped believing in Santa Claus in the 5th or 6th grade (memory fails). My youngest is in 5th grade and the middle child is in 6th.

  3. Along those lines, from Abyssum.org. Mary CHRISTmas! Guy

    Abyssum.org
    January 12, 2016

    Dear Editor,
    I am in my 69th year. Some of my little-minded friends, Democrats, and their President rejoice and say America is no more. I and many of my friends served in the Army during the Vietnam War. My father, my uncles, and father-in-law fought for America in World War II. My grandfather fought for America in World War I. My ancestor grandfather fought for America with General Washington in the Revolutionary War. Is this America no more? My childrens’ ancestor grandfather was the first Texan wounded in the Texas War For Independence in 1835; and two of their other grandfathers fought in the Civil War. Is what they fought for dead? I have heard from some, “If you see it in the eyes of your fellow Americans, hear it in their words, witness it in the reverence they have for Old Glory, and if they believe it in their hearts, then it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there an America any more?
    Very truly yours,
    Guy McClung, Texas
    *********

    Dear Guy,
    Your little-minded friends, the Democrats, and their President are wrong. They have been affected by the statism of a statist age and have been taken in by their own schemes. Yes, Guy, there is an America. America exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion and true patriotism exist, and America makes possible for you and everyone here an abounding meaning, beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no America! It would be as dreary as if there were no Americans. There would be no faith in one’s fellow man or woman, no united country that is and has been a shining city on a hill, no place where still thousands wish to come, and sacrifice everything to do so, because the hope for this America can move men and women to sacrifice all to be happy here.
    If there were no America, there would be no hope for the world. The world would have no enjoyment, no place full-of-wonder as is America. If anyone would succeed in destroying America or fundamentally changing it, the shining American light which fills the world would be extinguished.
    The Democrat President has said America is a nation of a foreign religion. Guy, he might as well have said a dog’s tail is a leg, and that a dog has five legs. From its founding America was a Judeo-Christian nation, has been a Judeo-Christian nation throughout its history, is one now, will be one after 2016, and will forever be a Judeo-Christian nation. Change America to another nation ? Our Constitution itself says it was signed in “the year of Our Lord,” who is none other than Jesus Christ. Change America from being a Judeo-Christian nation? This would be like changing love to hate, glory to infamy, or light to darkness.
    Not believe in America! You might as well not believe in goodness, and justice and love. America is the faith, poetry, love, care, courage, beauty, steadfastness, romance, and bravery that pushes aside tyrants and those who would alter or abolish her, and proclaims the glory she has known, the glory of her today, and the glory she will know in years to come. Is America real? Ah, Guy, in all this world there is no country so real, so good, and so abiding.
    No America? Thank God, Guy, America, the America your forbears fought for, lives and will live forever. A few foolish fools cannot change her. A thousand years from now, Guy, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, America will continue to make glad the hearts of its citizens and be a place of justice, of courage, and of freedom.
    God bless America, Guy, Merry Christmas! and Happy New Year.
    James Madison, Editor
    THE FEDERALIST

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