Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Original article in The New York Sun

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" is a line 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.[1][2]


Francis Pharcellus Church, author of the famous editorial

In 1897, 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 then prominent New York City newspaper, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so."[3][a] In so doing, 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.[5] More than a century later it is the most reprinted editorial in any newspaper in the English language.[1][2]

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.[6] Its creators took it to Warner Brothers, who made an Emmy award-winning television show based on the editorial in 1974.[7] 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.[citation needed]

The original letter

A copy of the letter, hand-written by Virginia and believed by her family to be the original, returned to them by the newspaper,[8] was authenticated in 1998 by Kathleen Guzman, an appraiser on the television program Antiques Roadshow.[2] In 2007, the show appraised its value at around $50,000.[8]


A commemorative plaque celebrating O'Hanlon and her letter was added to the building, now a school, where Virginia O'Hanlon lived when the letter was written. The plaque was dedicated at a ceremony attended by three generations of O'Hanlon's family.[9][10]

Every year, Virginia's letter and Church's response are read at the Yule log ceremony at Church's alma mater, Columbia University.[11]

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),[12] 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 Melendez (who had worked on various Peanuts specials).[13] The movie was a highly fictionalized account. Charles Bronson in 1991 starred in a TV movie based on the letter. In 1996, the story was adapted into an eponymous holiday musical by David Kirchenbaum (music and lyrics) and Myles McDonnel (book).[12]

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 Sam Elliott in 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.[14]

On September 21, 1997, the 100th anniversary of the editorial's original publication, The New York Times published an analysis of its enduring appeal.[15]

In 2003, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" was depicted in a mechanical holiday window display at the Lord & Taylor department store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.[16]

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.[17][18][19][20]

"Yes, Virginia, there is (a)..." has become an idiomatic expression to insist that something is true.[21]

In December 2015, Macy's department store in Herald Square, New York City, 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 2009 television special of the same name, starring Neil Patrick Harris and Bea Miller.[22]

Virginia O'Hanlon[edit]

Virginia O'Hanlon
Virginia O'Hanlon (ca. 1895).jpg
Virginia O'Hanlon (circa 1895)
Laura Virginia O'Hanlon

(1889-07-20)July 20, 1889
DiedMay 13, 1971(1971-05-13) (aged 81)
Other namesLaura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas
  • Teacher
  • educator
  • principal
Years active1912–1959
Known forEditorial "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" published by Francis Pharcellus Church
Edward Douglas

Laura Virginia O'Hanlon[23] 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."[1]

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 the 1930s.[8] The title of her dissertation was "The Importance of Play".[24] 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.[25]

External media
audio icon Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus, 11:00, 1937. Interview of Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas on WNYC[26]
audio icon Yes Virginia — 66 years later, 3:50, 1963. Interview of Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas on the CBC[28]
video icon Virginia of "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" reads her famous letter, 4:12, WTENAlbany[27]

Douglas received a steady stream of mail about her letter throughout her life. She would include a copy of the editorial in her replies.[29] In an interview later in life, she credited it with shaping the direction of her life quite positively.[28][8]

In December 2012, radio station WGNA-FM in Albany, New York,[30] 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.[31] She is buried at the Chatham Rural Cemetery in North Chatham, New York.[32]


  1. ^ 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.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Campbell, W. Joseph (Spring 2005). "The grudging emergence of American journalism's classic editorial: New details about 'Is There A Santa Claus?'". American Journalism Review. University of Maryland, College Park: Philip Merrill College of Journalism. 22 (2). Retrieved October 29, 2007.
  2. ^ a b c "1897 "Yes, Virginia" Santa Claus Letter". Antiques Roadshow. Public Broadcasting Service. July 19, 1997. Archived from the original on September 22, 2017.
  3. ^ Quoted from Virginia's original letter text.
  4. ^ Rooney, Andy (2007). Common Nonsense. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 9781586486174.
  5. ^ Harvey, Paul. The Rest of the Story: Yes, Virginia. From the Internet Archive Old-Time Radio collection; date unknown.
  6. ^ Hausmann, Suzanne (1978). Yes, Virginia. Phinmarc Books. ISBN 0685862356.
  7. ^ Woolery, George W. (1989). Animated TV Specials: The Complete Directory to the First Twenty-Five Years, 1962-1987. Scarecrow Press. pp. 463–464. ISBN 0-8108-2198-2. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d Gollom, Mark (December 22, 2019). "Yes, Virginia, your Christmas legacy lives on". CBC News. Retrieved December 22, 2019.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Yule Log Ceremony". Barnard Campus News. Barnard and Columbia holiday events. Barnard College, New York City. December 4, 2001. Archived from the original on February 22, 2002. Retrieved November 13, 2007. 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"
  12. ^ a b 'Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.'. (2000). 'The World Encyclopedia of Christmas'. Gerry Bowler, Editor. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Limited. pp. 252–253.
  13. ^ Crump, William D. (2019). Happy Holidays—Animated! A Worldwide Encyclopedia of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year's Cartoons on Television and Film. McFarland & Co. p. 349. ISBN 9781476672939.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 17, 1989). "Prancer Movie Review & Film Summary". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved December 7, 2015.
  15. ^ Vincigueera, Thomas (September 21, 1997). "Yes, Virginia, a Thousand Times Yes". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
  16. ^ "Christmas in New York: Lord and Taylor Christmas Holiday Window displays 2003 Photo Gallery". November 2, 2009. Retrieved March 1, 2010.
  17. ^ Haberman, Clyde (December 24, 2004). "NYC - Yes, New York, There Was A Virginia". The New York Times. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
  18. ^ New York Times – Yes Virginia there is a scholarship at the Studio School
  19. ^ Studio School Virginia Scholarship Fund
  20. ^ Head of School Janet C. Rotter presents Virginia O'Hanlon scholarship
  21. ^ ""Yes, Virginia…", by Joanne, 20 Dec 2010". About English Idioms. December 10, 2010. Retrieved January 8, 2011.
  22. ^ "Yes Virginia, there really is a Macy's". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  23. ^ Fernandez, Manny (December 24, 2010). "To Virginia's Family, Santa Claus Is Still Real". The New York Times. pp. A23, A29. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 27, 2010.
  24. ^ V., Douglas, Laura (January 1, 1930). The Importance of Play (Thesis). Fordham University.
  25. ^ "Virginia, Now 70, Quits As Teacher; School Principal Who at 8 Asked 'Is There a Santa?' Is a Guest at Dinner" (Abstract of subscription PDF). The New York Times. June 12, 1959. Retrieved October 29, 2007. 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.
  26. ^ "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus". WNYC. December 8, 2010. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  27. ^ "Virginia of "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" reads her famous letter". WTEN. December 24, 2009. Retrieved October 24, 2016.
  28. ^ a b "Yes Virginia — 66 years later". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. December 24, 1963. Archived from the original on June 5, 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2010.
  29. ^ Morrison, Jim "Santa Junior"; McElhany, Jennifer. "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". National Christmas Centre, Exhibits. National Christmas Centre. Archived from the original on December 27, 2011. Retrieved November 13, 2007. 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.
  30. ^ "Decades Later, Santa Claus Visits Author of Iconic 'Yes Virginia' Letter". Townsquare Media. December 11, 2012. Retrieved December 25, 2013.
  31. ^ "Virginia O'Hanlon, Santa's Friend, Dies; Virginia O'Hanlon Dead at 81". The New York Times. May 14, 1971. Retrieved October 29, 2007. 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.
  32. ^ The Daily Progress

Additional reading[edit]

  • American National Biography. "Virginia O'Hanlon". V. 16. 1999. pp. 645–646.
  • Thomas Vinciguerra (September 21, 1997). "Yes, Virginia, A Thousand Times Yes". The Week in Review. The New York Times.
  • Dresden Dolls album Yes, Virginia ... (2006) and b-side compilation No, Virginia ... (2008)

External links[edit]