Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus…

But was there really a Virginia?
Today, our local newspaper, as it does every year, printed the famous letter of one “Virginia O’Hanlon” to the New York Sun asking if there was really a Santa Claus. The letter, and the editor’s response to it, have become legendary. Her letter is sweet, and his response is eloquent and beautiful.
But I wonder… did an eight-year-old girl really write that letter? Take a look at what Virginia supposedly wrote:

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 question Virginia poses is definitely childlike, but would an eight-year-old refer to her friends as “my little friends?” That sounds more like what an adult would say if he or she was talking to an eight-year-old. “Find some of your little playmates and do something nice outdoors,” for example, as Fern’s mother in “Charlotte’s Web said.
Then there is the rather obvious plug for the newspaper itself: “Papa says if you see it in the Sun, it is so.” Uh huh.
Now here’s the editor’s reply:

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 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 life 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 supernatural 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.

It’s a well-thought-out, beautifully expressed response.
But it seems awfully advanced to be directed toward a girl of eight, even a bright one. he does try to present his response in a way she can relate to, by mentioning fairies dancing on the lawn, but all his talk about poetry and romance seems directed more at his adult readers than at Virginia. Of course, since he was writing in the newspaper and not just a private letter to Virginia, he had to produce “editorial page quality” work.

My conclusions:
1. Virginia O’Hanlon the eight-year-old probably didn’t write the letter to the editor. Who knows? Maybe in a roundabout way she inspired the published response, but I am fairly sure she didn’t write the original letter.
2. The editor was probably asked by his own children about Santa Claus, and decided that the question deserved to be addressed in his paper. And perhaps he wanted to remind adults that Christmas is supposed to be a time of light-heartedness, joy and generosity.
3. It doesn’t really matter if Virginia did write the letter, or if she even existed. What is important is the response, that whether Santa is real or not isn’t the point. The point is that everybody should believe in teh spirit of giving, the magic of childhood, and in kindness toard others.

Yes, Virginia, there is magic.

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