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In 1897, Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to a newspaper about the existence of Santa Claus and got the famous response, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."
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At the age of 8, Virginia O'Hanlon became part of American history as the little girl who questioned the existence of Santa Claus. Unable to get a straight answer from her parents, she wrote a letter to the New York Sun in search of the truth: "Dear Editor….Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?" The reply, which began, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” was instant Americana.
Educator and writer Laura Virginia O'Hanlon was born in 1889. At the age of eight, Virginia O'Hanlon became part of American history as the little girl who questioned the existence of Santa Claus. When she was unable to get a straight answer from her parents, she wrote a letter to the New York Sun newspaper in search of the truth.
The letter read: "Dear Editor, I am 8 years old. Some of my 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?" The newspaper published her letter and its reply to her query on September 21, 1897. Because the newspaper had a policy of keeping its editorials anonymous, Francis Church was not identified as the author until after his death in 1906.
A former Civil War correspondent, Church specialized in religious and controversial issues at the Sun. He told her outright that "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." And went to explain that "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."
This holiday exchange has become part of American popular culture and is often reprinted during the holiday season. As for the little girl in the story, she grew up and became a teacher. O'Hanlon earned a master's degree from Columbia University and a doctorate from Fordham University. For many years, she worked as an educator and school administrator. O'Hanlon also married, and became Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas.
Her famous correspondence followed her throughout her life. It was run in The New York Sun every year until the paper folded in 1949 (the paper's name was revived years later and is currently in print) as well as countless other publications throughout the years. In 1959, O'Hanlon moved to North Chatham, New York. She was the subject of a tribute by the North Chatham United Methodist Church in 1966. At the celebration, O'Hanlon read her letter and Church's response to an enthusiastic crowd. Her grandson, James Temple, told the The New York Sun in 2004 that she did not think she think that she had done anything special. He said that O'Hanlon told him, "All I did was ask the question . . . Mr. Church's editorial was so beautiful . . . It was Mr. Church who did something wonderful."
Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas died on May 13, 1971. In 2005, plans were announced to transform her New York City childhood home into a school, according to the the Sun. A decision of which lifelong teacher O'Hanlon would surely have approved.
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