Christmas Stories: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

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In 1897, eight-year old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun asking if there was a Santa Claus.  She stated her friends had been telling her there was no Santa Claus.

Virginia O’Hanlan and Francis Church

Her letter and an answer were published on the front page of the newspaper on September 21, 1897, under the title Is there a Santa Claus?.

Church’s reply provided a simple answer to a universal question.

Church died in April 1906 and it was only then that it came to light that he was the author of the editorial.

The letter was answered by editor Francis Church, but at the time the author of the editorial was unknown.

Over the years the tradition of reading the letter and answer at Columbia College of Columbia University, which was Church’s alma mater, became an annual tradition.

In 1932, NBC adapted the response into a cantata that was broadcast as part of the Santa Claus Story.

Virginia O’Hanlan answered letters she received about the letter, including the response in her reply.  She stated in an interview that she credited the editorial with shaping the direction of her life positively.  She died in a New York nursing home on May 13, 1971.

An animated TV special aired in 1974, that became a staple during the Christmas season.

In the 1989 movie Prancer, a portion of the letter was read.

In 1991, Richard Thomas and Charles Bronson, starred in a made for TV movie based on Virginia writing the letter.

The story was made into a musical in 1996.

Another feature film was made of the story in 2009.

Lord and Taylor featured “Yes, Virginia” as their holiday window display in 2003.   Macy’s would have their own display in 2015, based on the 2009 film version.

How has Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus effected your life?