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William Laney Headshot

About the "Yes, Virginia" Editorial

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I remember well my own childhood doubts about Santa Claus. They came to mind at almost exactly the same age Virginia O'Hanlon was when she wrote her now-famous letter to The New York Sun newspaper, to seek confirmation of Santa's existence.

Virginia's classmates had told the eight-year old that there was no Santa. "Please tell me the truth", she pleaded of The Sun, "Is there a Santa Claus?"

That was a long time ago--1897. The editor who was given the difficult task of finding an appropriate--and yet truthful reply was a veteran journalist named Francis Marcellus Church. His long career had included coverage of the Civil War for The New York Times.

The lengthy editorial that Francis Church penned is a journalistic masterpiece. It became an immediate sensation at the time of its writing, and it is said to be the most reprinted editorial in the history of the English language.

It told Virginia O'Hanlon, and countless generations of children after her that Santa is real, and it did so in a logical, and yes, a truthful way. I was one of those whose doubts were eased by being shown a copy of the "Yes, Virginia" editorial.

What they did 115 years ago--this beautiful, gifted child,, and this kindly, skilled, older gentleman--was to assure that Santa Claus will live, and be very real, in hearts and minds forever.

Francis Church passed away just nine years after his acclaimed response to a difficult question. Virginia O'Hanlon went on to a long productive life. After graduating from Hunter College, and getting her Masters Degree at Columbia University, and her Doctorate at Fordham University, Virginia became an educater--first a teacher and then a principal. She passed away in 1971 at age 82.

The letter that Virginia wrote was authenticated in 1998, and is valued today at $20,000-$30,000. The editorial that Francis Church wrote in response to her letter appears each year at Christmas time in countless newspapers across the country. Because of their collaboration--her letter and his editorial--Santa Claus is immortal.

For as Francis Church so eloquently wrote: "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. Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever."