In 1897, an editorial was published in a New York newspaper, which would become one of the most beautiful and popular Christmas folklore in the United States.
It’s a story that highlights many of the values that were intensely cultivated during the founding of this great nation. The search for truth, respect for the press and media, the value of the individual and their opinion-even if they are children-and the impact that opinion can cause on society in general. It’s a story as real as its protagonists.
Virginia O'Hanlon, an 8-year-old girl, for a school project, set out to prove that Santa Claus exists. During her investigation, she collected all types of historical and cultural evidence of the character's existence, which children around the world recognize.
Papa Noel, as they say in Spain, or Saint Nicholas, as they identify him in Holland and Eastern Europe or Father Christmas, as they call him in the United Kingdom, in all cases, Virginia was not satisfied with the evidence she found.
Insisting, Virginia asked her father Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a Manhattan coroner, to help her discover the truth. The girl was desperate because of the bullying and constant teasing from her classmates and school friends.
Eloquently, the doctor responded with a phrase that today is an icon of American journalism. He said, “Ask the newspaper The New York Sun. If The Sun says it, it's because it's true.” In international journalism, the idea behind this phrase marked the beginning of an era during the nineteenth and part of the twentieth century. Mass media were guarantors of the truth.
Much later, in this precipitous twenty-first century, many trusted media outlets began to change their mission for a number of sales. It’s not uncommon to see headings or photographs that have nothing to do with content, biased interpretations of the truth, complete misrepresentations, defamations to the highest bidder, or simple destruction of the reputation of people or institutions, among others.
Little Virginia's letter, addressed to The New York Sun, finally reached its destination. And although the newspaper's director had difficulty finding an editor who would reply to the girl, he found Francis Pharcellus Church to do so: a former war correspondent that witnessed the most horrific war atrocities, a lonely widower, atheist, and bitter cynic later admitted that writing to Virginia changed his life and saved him.
The editorial, under the title Is There a Santa Claus? was published 122 years ago on December 21, 1897, at the bottom of the first page of the newspaper. It’s the most reprinted newspaper editorial in the English language. It has inspired children books like Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! and other works like Yes, Santa, there is a Virginia! The real Virginia would publicly read the article until her death in 1971 and in following year’s movie stars or public figures would take on this service. Her story has been readapted into movies and other versions. Maybe not even enough.
Today, we face a new crisis of scepticism and all that it contaminates, similar to what Church identified in his famous editorial as the reason why Virginia's companions bothered her mercilessly. We could also add that not only does Santa Claus exist, but also Christmas and all its good are as real as the children's rights that covered Virginia at the time and continue to protect so many children.
There still exists in many people the same confidence that Virginia’s father had towards the prestigious newspaper, which did not fail him. The honesty of many journalists, who do their work with integrity and dedicate themselves to their true calling, remains authentic even though freedom of expression is so often trampled on; and faith in the love of God remains the main engine that makes the world go round. Yes, Virginia, there is a Christmas!