Wise Poets, Wise Poets of the Past

Francis Pharcellus Church: Little Virginia’s Secret Journalism Santa

Francis Pharcellus Church: Little Virginia’s Secret Journalism Santa

Francis Pharcellus Church: Little Virginia’s Secret Journalism Santa

A child’s letter to the editor questioning the existence of Santa Claus challenged the imagination of a crusty old, cynical newspaper writer by the name of Francis Pharcellus Church to answer the child in the affirmative. And although he was too ashamed of himself to admit to authorship of this the world’s most famous editorial of all time, translated into twenty languages, reprinted every Christmas for years, and used over and over again in blockbuster movies about Christmas, who can after all, deny a mere child?

Eight year old Virginia O’Hanlon posed this pressing question to her father’s most trusted newspaper The New York Sun after a most compelling debate about the existence of Santa Claus with her classmates.

“Dear Editor I am eight 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?”

And when the letter crossed the desk of Church’s brother, the editor and chief of the newspaper, he just summarily passed the buck onto his wry, jaded brother Francis much to the man’s chagrin, to which this most esteemed editor of skepticism replied:

September 21, 1897
New York, New York


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 eternal 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 they 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 may 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, fancy, 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 he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Thus a ‘Just the facts, maim’ type newspaper reporter made Christmas magic for a child and for all of us for all time (and he put it in writing!).

Shirley Satterfield
Shirley Mandel Satterfield is a Baltimore girl from way back who was raised in the rough and tumble world of a steelworkers family and writes Christian poetry, memoirs and nonfiction. She has lived to survive a life fraught with domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness and writes to help others to survive the same kinds of things. After becoming a radiology technician, she went on to serve in the U.S. Army and later on in life attended Averett University in Danville, Virginia as a nontraditional student earning two B.A. degrees in English and journalism and was awarded the Ember Award for Excellence in Poetry by the campus literary magazine. She was also named correspondent of the Day by the Richmond Times Dispatch for a letter she wrote to the editor concerning the importance of compassionate treatment and the acceptance of the mentally ill by society.
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