"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" is a phrase from an editorial called "Is There a Santa Claus?". The editorial appeared in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun and has since become part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States. It is the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the English language.
In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia O'Hanlon (1889–1971), whether Santa Claus really existed. O'Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." In so doing, Dr. O'Hanlon had unwittingly given 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 that 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 page, below even one on the newly invented "chainless bicycle", it was both noticed and well received by readers. According to an anecdote on the radio program The Rest of the Story, Church was a hardened cynic and an atheist who had little patience for superstitious beliefs, did not want to write the editorial, and refused to allow his name to be attached to the piece. More than a century later it is the most reprinted editorial in any newspaper in the English language.
In 1971, after seeing Virginia's obituary in The New York Times, four friends formed a company called Elizabeth Press and published a children's book titled Yes, Virginia that illustrated the editorial and included a brief history of the main characters. Its creators took it to Warner Brothers, who eventually made an Emmy award-winning television show based on the editorial. The History Channel, in a special that aired on February 21, 2001, noted that Virginia gave the original letter to a granddaughter, who pasted it in a scrapbook. It was feared that the letter was destroyed in a house fire, but 30 years later, it was discovered intact.
A copy of the letter, hand-written by Virginia and believed by her family to be the original was authenticated in 1998 by Kathleen Guzman, an appraiser on the television program Antiques Roadshow. Some commentators doubt that a young girl would refer to children her own age as "my little friends" and suspect Virginia's father assisted her in composing the letter or even wrote it himself.
The story of Virginia's inquiry and The Sun's response was adapted in 1932 into an NBC-produced cantata (the only known editorial set to classical music), a segment of the short film Santa Claus Story (1945), and an Emmy Award-winning animated television special aired in 1974 on ABC, animated by Bill Meléndez (who had worked on various Peanuts specials). In 1991, it was adapted into a made-for-TV movie starring Richard Thomas and Charles Bronson. The movie was a highly fictionalized account. In 1996, the story was adapted into an eponymous holiday musical by David Kirchenbaum (music and lyrics) and Myles McDonnel (book).
In 1954, American country singer and actor, Tex Ritter released a single called "Is There a Santa Claus?" about "little" Virginia's letter and then narrates Francis Church's response.
The last two paragraphs of Church's editorial are read by actor Sam Elliott in the 1989 film Prancer, about Jessica Riggs, a little girl who believes the wounded reindeer she is nursing back to health belongs to Santa. Jessica's story inspires the local newspaper editor, as Virginia's letter did to Church, to write an editorial which he titles Yes, Santa, there is a Virginia.
On September 21, 1997, the 100th anniversary of the editorial's original publication, The New York Times published an analysis of its enduring appeal.
Virginia continues to inspire generations of young students at The Studio School, a New York City private school located in the building where Virginia grew up and penned her letter. The curiosity in Virginia's letter, and her dedication to education later in life, have rendered her a guiding figure in school lore. Students read and discuss her letter annually, and have written and performed plays about the young girl's life. In 2009, Janet C. Rotter, Head of School, announced the establishment of the Virginia O'Hanlon Scholarship Fund, speaking passionately about the school's commitment to offering need-based scholarships for students of merit. The fund continues to grow and accept donations.
In December 2015, Macy's department store in Herald Square, New York City, NY used Virginia's story for their holiday window display, illustrated in three-dimensional figurines and spanning several windows on the south side of the store along 34th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. This version of "Yes, Virginia" is based on the 2010 television special of the same name, starring Neil Patrick Harris and Bea Miller.
Virginia O'Hanlon (circa 1895)
|Born||July 20, 1889|
|Died||May 13, 1971 (aged 81)|
Laura Virginia O'Hanlon was born on July 20, 1889, in New York City, New York. Her marriage to Edward Douglas in the 1910s was brief, and ended with him deserting her shortly before their daughter, Laura, was born. She was listed as divorced in the 1930 United States Census but nevertheless kept her ex-husband's surname the rest of her life (as was common practice), styled as "Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas."
Douglas received her Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College in 1910, a master's degree in education from Columbia University in 1912, and a doctorate from Fordham University in 1930. The title of her dissertation was "The Importance of Play". She was a school teacher in the New York City Independent School District. She started her career as an educator in 1912, became a junior principal in 1935, and retired in 1959.
|Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, 11:00, 1937. Interview of Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas on WNYC|
|Yes Virginia — 66 years later, 3:50, 1963. Interview of Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas on the CBC|
|Virginia of "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" reads her famous letter, 4:12, WTENAlbany|
Douglas received a steady stream of mail about her letter throughout her life. She would include a copy of the editorial in her replies. In an interview later in life, she credited it with shaping the direction of her life quite positively.
In December 2012, radio station WGNA-FM in Albany, New York, published a photo of Douglas meeting Santa on Christmas Eve 1969, two years before her death. Douglas died on May 13, 1971, at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, New York. She is buried at the Chatham Rural Cemetery in North Chatham, New York.
During the Yule Log ceremony, the passing of the seasons is marked by the reading of... the famous editorial on the true spirit of Christmas, "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus"
Mrs. Laura Virginia Douglas, retiring after forty-three years as a public school teacher and principal, was given a farewell dinner by her colleagues last night at the Towers Hotel in Brooklyn.
Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about the letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the editorial.
Valatie, N. Y., May 13 – Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas, who as a child was reassured that "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", died today at the age of 81.
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