"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."

"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."

For many years at The Denison Herald, it was a tradition to publish the story of Virginia O’Hanlon’s letter to an editor of the New York Sun. Claud Easterly, editor emeritus of The Herald, kept up the tradition and encouraged me to continue it when I became editor. Except for a few years, that tradition has continued every Christmas in the Herald Democrat.

The letter was written in the scrawled handwriting of an eight year old in 1897 to the editor of the Sun and the editorial response was written by a veteran editor, Francis P. Church.

The letter that is printed above in bold face type and reply (below) were reprinted by the Sun every year until 1949 when the paper ceased to publish. Church’s editorial is titled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus." It was an immediate sensation when first published in 1897 by the Sun.

Church wrote:

"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 external 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 you 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 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, 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 lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

Thirty-six years after the letter was first printed, Virginia said, "Quite naturally I believed in Santa Claus, for he had never disappointed me. But when less fortunate little boys and girls said there wasn’t any Santa Claus, I was filled with doubts. I asked my father, and he was a little evasive on the subject.

"It was a habit in our family that whenever any doubts came up as to how to pronounce a word or some question of historical fact was in doubt, we wrote to the Question and Answer column in The Sun. Father would always say, ‘If you see it in the The Sun, it’s so,’ and that settled the matter.

"‘Well, I’m just going to write The Sun and find out the real truth,’ I said to father.

"He said, ‘Go ahead, Virginia. I’m sure The Sun will give you the right answer, as it always does.’"

So, that’s what Virginia did.

"Is there a Santa Claus?" the childish scrawl in the letter asked. Once Francis Church read Virginia’s letter, he knew he had to answer it and he had to be truthful. So he sat down at his desk and wrote one of the most memorable editorials ever written.

Church was a war correspondent during the Civil War, a time that saw much suffering. Although the newspaper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the editorial page, its message was very moving to many sentimental people who read it.

Church married shortly after the editorial appeared. He died in April 1906 and had no children.

Virginia graduated from Hunter College with a BA degree at age 21. The next year she received her Master’s degree from Columbia, and in 1912 she began teaching in the New York City school system, later becoming a principal. After 47 years, she retired.

Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about her Santa Claus letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the Church editorial.

Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, N.Y.

Every year Virginia’s letter and Church’s response are read at the Yule Log ceremony at Church’s alma mater, Columbia College of Columbia University.

The letter and the response were adapted into an Emmy Award-winning animated television special in 1974. The story also was adapted into a television movie in 1991. In 2006 the band Dresden Dolls released an album titled "Yes, Virginia."

Our wish for you is joy and happiness during this Christmas season and that the childhood love possessed by Virginia O’Hanlon is revived throughout the world. Merry Christmas!

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.