This Christmas Eve, like every Christmas Eve, Sara Rogers will accumulate her accouchement at her home in Tucson, Ariz., and apprehend aloud one of the best acclaimed belletrist and editorials appear in North America.
That her accouchement are now 19 and 20 makes no difference. It’s an important ancestors attitude and a reminder how more than 120 years ago, her great-grandmother, Virginia O’Hanlon, became indelibly affiliated with the anniversary for allurement a simple question: Is there a Santa Claus?
“We accept ancestors time. One of my aunts gave anniversary of the kids a book, Yes, Virginia, when they were little. And so we aloof cull out one of the books and we apprehend it,” Rogers said.
“And every Christmas season, we usually get asked questions [by the media]. So it’s nice to be able to allocution about it and to canyon on her legacy.”
While O’Hanlon accepted her legacy, so, too, accept her grandchildren and great-grandchildren who accept consistently taken allotment in contest that honour the letter and the beat that followed.
That bequest began back in July of 1897, aback New York City citizen Virginia, again aloof eight years old, and with the advance of her father, wrote to the New York Sun:
“I am eight years old. Some of my accompany say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says if you see it in the Sun, it’s so.”
Please acquaint me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
The letter allegedly got confused for months at the Sun but eventually concluded up on the board of Edward P. Mitchell, the beat folio editor. He asked advance beat biographer Francis P. Church to ability a reply, according to W. Joseph Campbell, who wrote about the letter and editorial in his book, The Year That Defined American Journalism: 1897 and the Clash of Paradigms.
But Church, Mitchell would afterwards recall, wasn’t all that agog about his assignment.
“Church supposedly was a bit affronted and grumbled about accepting been assigned to address this editorial,” said Campbell, who is additionally a assistant of communications at American University in Washington, D.C.
It took Church a day to ability a response, an editorial that would become the most republished beat in the history of U.S. journalism.
“Virginia, your little accompany are wrong,” he wrote. “They accept been afflicted by the skepticism of a agnostic age. They do not accept except they see. They anticipate that annihilation can be which is not apprehensible by their little minds.”
Yet it was this passage, as Campbell acicular out, that would prove best memorable:
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as absolutely as adulation and generosity and adherence exist, and you apperceive that they abound and accord to your activity its accomplished adorableness and joy. Alas! how black would be the apple if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as black as if there were no Virginias.”
Campbell said the piece wasn’t accustomed a prime atom in the beat section. It received little absorption initially — except, of course, from Virginia, who had been blockage the paper regularly for a response.
“I was so blessed and appreciative to accept such cutting affidavit that I was right, that there was a Santa Claus and my little accompany were wrong,” she told CBC Radio in an account on Dec. 24, 1963.
LISTEN: Virginia O’Hanlon talks to CBC Radio about her acclaimed letter.
But some readers absolutely accepted the editorial, asking the New York Sun to reprint it.
“Readers absolutely kept it animate and kept aggravation the Sun until the Sun gave in,” Campbell said.
It was about exceptional of for a bi-weekly to republish one of its editorials, but bristles years later, the Sun decided to album it. Initially, advertisement was desultory and it wasn’t until the 1920s that the Sun’s administrator absitively to broadcast the editorial every year.
Its acceptance flourished. The allotment was appear in newspapers beyond the country, translated internationally, and fabricated Virginia a bit of a media star, at atomic for a abbreviate while every December. It gave bearing to a children’s book, Yes, Virginia, in the aboriginal 1970s and an activated television show.
“It aloof appealed to readers, to the accepted accessible on a cardinal of altered levels,” Campbell said. “If you apprehend it closely, the actual bookish altercation is about a mystical altercation about Santa Claus.
“In a way, it’s not talking bottomward to little kids generally. And so it’s reassuring. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. So addition acumen I anticipate it has lived on is that it allows parents to acquaint their children, yes, Santa Claus exists.”
The irony, however, is that while Virginia would become acclaimed for her letter, the columnist of the beat would abide anonymous.
It wasn’t until anon afterwards Church’s death in 1906 that his colleagues at the Sun, as a accolade to him, made bright that he was the author.
“The beat was the affair that’s important here,” said Jim Temple, O’Hanlon’s grandson. “And my grandmother was aloof a agitator in the accomplished process.”
“She consistently gave acclaim to Mr. Church. She never clanged the symbols for her role in this.”
Along with the media absorption about Christmas, O’Hanlon would be flooded with Christmas cards and letters, Temple said.
“She consistently seemed that it was an obligation to acknowledgment questions that bodies asked her.”
O’Hanlon had one daughter, whom she aloft by herself. She earned a master’s amount at Columbia University and was a abecedary in New York City schools, according to Campbell. She afterwards became principal of a academy for accouchement with disabilities, afterwards earning a doctorate in education from Fordham University in 1935.
Campbell said O’Hanlon occasionally apprehend the beat at Christmas programs. In her account with CBC, she said she acquainted a responsibility to alive up to some of the ethics in the editorial.
“It’s brought into my activity many, abounding interesting and kind things that I don’t think would accept been there.”
O’Hanlon died in 1971 at the age of 81. At some point, the New York Sun beatific aback the aboriginal letter to the family. It currently resides in New York with Virginia’s great-grandson, Brock Rogers, who has it alert assimilate a anthology that is defended in a safe.
Around 1997, he had the letter acquainted on the Antiques Roadshow, which called its account at about $20,000 to $30,000. Ten years later, the show reappraised it at about $50,000.
Whatever its accepted worth, Rogers said the letter isn’t on the bargain block.
“This is aloof article to be anesthetized down. Keep it in the family. I accept kids, my sister has kids, we’ll pass it bottomward to them,” he said.
“It is not [for sale.]”
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