Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus
In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was faced with a minor family crisis. His eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, had begun to doubt the existence of Santa Claus, her friends telling her he was fictional.
Dr. O'Hanlon told her to write to the Sun, a prominent New York newspaper at the time, assuring her the paper would tell her the truth. While he was possibly passing the buck because he could not bear to tell his daughter that Santa Claus was a myth, he unwittingly gave one of the paper's editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question, and address the philosophical issues behind it.
Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time which saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the editorial page, below even an editorial on the newly invented "chainless bicycle", its message struck a chord in the hearts of people who read it. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language. Although many have doubted whether Virginia, rather than her father, actually wrote the letter to the editor, noting that a young girl would not refer to children her own age as "my little friends", the message contained in the response is considered as pertinent today as in 1897.
The story of Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus was freely adapted by Bill Melendez (the producer of the Peanuts TV specials) into an Emmy Award-winning 30-minute animated TV special in 1974, starring the voices of Jim Backus and Jimmy Osmond . While this TV special very loosely based on the facts has been largely forgotten and has not attained the legendary status of Backus' Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol, it is still seen as one of the rare gems of television that can touch a viewer's heart.
See also: Christmas stories
- Essay on the 100th anniversary of the Sun editorial
- Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991) at the Internet Movie Database
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