Niagara Gazette — For Francis Pharcellus Church, an editorial page writer for the The New York Sun, it was just another night in the newsroom that fall of 1897.
Little did he realize what an impact his next assignment would have in the world of journalism. The managing editor had handed him a copy of a “Letter to the Editor” from eight-year-old girl Virginia O’Hanlon. Church was directed to reply to it.
Virginia was upset because friends at school had teased her that there was no Santa Claus. When she asked her father to settle the matter, he just said, “If you see it in ‘The Sun,’ then it’s so.” Taking his advice, the girl wrote to the editor: “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”
Church retreated to his corner office that evening and, in a sort span, turned out one of the most memorable editorials ever published. It started ... “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 it’s 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.”
Ironically, the Sun was not the kind of newspaper to embrace Santa or anything else extolling the seasonal spirit. Usually the newspaper was on the attack, like lashing out at public corruption or at the latest scandal at city hall, as media critic W. Joseph Campbell found in his exhaustive research. In fact, for years it rejected readers’ requests to reprint the Santa editorial. In 1902, however, the Sun agreed to run it once again. It seemed as if the editors were actually annoyed by having to reprint it.