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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

Original article in The New York Sun
Virginia O'Hanlon (circa 1895)
Francis Pharcellus Church, author of the famous editorial
The original letter

Is There a Santa Claus? was the title of an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun. The editorial, which included the famous reply "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", has become part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States.


  • History 1
  • Virginia O'Hanlon 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Recent prominence 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


In 1897, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon, a coroner's assistant on Manhattan's Upper West Side, was asked by his then eight-year-old daughter, Virginia O'Hanlon (1889–1971), whether Santa Claus really existed.

O'Hanlon suggested she write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper at the time, assuring her that "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." He unwittingly gave one of the paper's editors, Francis Pharcellus Church, an opportunity to rise above the simple question and address the philosophical issues behind it.

Church was a war correspondent during the American Civil War, a time that saw great suffering and a corresponding lack of hope and faith in much of society. Although the paper ran the editorial in the seventh place on the page, below even one on the newly invented "chainless bicycle", its message was very moving to many people who read it. More than a century later it remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language.[1]

In 1971, after seeing Virginia's obituary in The New York Times, four friends formed a company, called Elizabeth Press, and published a children's book titled Yes, Virginia that illustrated the editorial and included a brief history of the main characters. Its creators took it to Warner Brothers who eventually made the Emmy award-winning television show based on the editorial. The History Channel, in a special that aired on February 21, 2001, noted that Virginia gave the original letter to a granddaughter, who pasted it in a scrapbook. It was feared that the letter was destroyed in a house fire, but 30 years later, it was discovered intact.

Some people have questioned the veracity of the letter's authorship, expressing doubt that a young girl such as Virginia would refer to children her own age as "my little friends" and speculating that Virginia's father was the actual author. The original letter, however, appeared and was authenticated in 1998 by Kathleen Guzman,[2] an appraiser on the Antiques Roadshow, at $20,000–$30,000.[3]

Virginia O'Hanlon

Virginia O'Hanlon's full married name was Laura Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas.[4] She was born on July 20, 1889, in Manhattan, New York. Her marriage to Edward Douglas in the 1910s was brief, and ended with him deserting her shortly before their daughter, Laura, was born. She was listed as divorced in the 1930 United States Census.[1]

Virginia received her Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College in 1910, a Master's degree in education from Columbia University in 1912, and a doctorate from Fordham University. She was a school teacher in the New York City ISD. She started her career as an educator in 1912, became a junior principal in 1935, and retired in 1959.[5]

Virginia received a steady stream of mail about her letter throughout her life. She would include a copy of the editorial in her replies.[6] In an interview later in life, she credited it with shaping the direction of her life quite positively.[7]

In December 2012, radio station WGNA-FM in Albany, NY [8] secured a never before published photo of Virginia finally meeting Santa on Christmas Eve 1969, two years before her death.

Virginia died on May 13, 1971 at the age of 81, in a nursing home in Valatie, New York.[9] She is buried at the Chatham Rural Cemetery in North Chatham, New York.[10]


Every year, Virginia's letter and Church's response are read at the Yule Log ceremony at Church's alma mater, Columbia College of Columbia University.[11]

The story of Virginia's inquiry and The Sun '​s response was adapted in 1932 into an NBC produced cantata (the only known editorial set to classical music)[12] and an Emmy Award-winning animated television special in 1974, animated by Bill Meléndez (best known for his work on the various Peanuts specials) and featuring the voices of Jim Backus, Susan Silo and Courtney Lemmon, with theme song performed by Jimmy Osmond.[13] In 1991 it was adapted into a made-for-TV movie with Richard Thomas and Charles Bronson.[14] In 1996, the story of Virginia's inquiry and the The Sun '​s response was adapted into a holiday musical "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" by David Kirchenbaum (music and lyrics) and Myles McDonnel (book).[12]

In New York City, local television journalist Gabe Pressman has recounted the story each Christmas for the past thirty years.[15]

The last two paragraphs of Church's editorial are read by actor Sam Elliot in the 1989 film Prancer, about Jessica Riggs, a little girl who believes the wounded reindeer she is nursing back to health belongs to Santa. Jessica's story inspires the local newspaper editor, as Virginia's letter did to Church, to write an editorial which he titles Yes, Santa, there are still Virginias.

On September 21, 1997, the exact 100th anniversary of the original publication of the editorial, The New York Times published an analysis of its enduring appeal.[16]

In 2003 "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" was depicted in a mechanical holiday window display at the Lord & Taylor department store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.[17]

In 2009, The Studio School in New York City, honored Virginia's life and legacy. Janet C. Rotter, Head of School, announced the establishment of the Virginia O'Hanlon Scholarship, speaking passionately about their commitment to offering need-based scholarships for students of merit.[18][19][20][21] Virginia's descendants continue her legacy.[4]

Another indication of the popularity of "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" is the use of "Yes, Virginia, there is (a) (subject – person, object, activity, and/or concept)" (or similar phrase) in satire,[22] parody,[23] and as an idiomatic expression to insist that something is true.[24]

Recent prominence

Macy's, in partnership with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, launched its first Believe campaign in 2008, based on "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". The 2008 Believe campaign results included Macy's collecting 1.1 million letters from Santa Mail Red Letter boxes located in Macy's stores, that were then mailed to him through the United States Post Office "Operation Santa", and Macy's making a matching $ 1 million US contribution to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the letters collected by Macy's.[25][26]

The 2008 Macy's Believe holiday commercial featured Jessica Simpson, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart and others quoting various popular lines from "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."[27] The opening lines appeared again in the 2009 Believe holiday commercial featuring Queen Latifah.[28] In 2009, Macy's added a "Believe Meter", which consists of letters collected starting at "Imagine" to "Wish" to "Dream" all the way to "Believe", to keep track of how many letters were collected so far.

In 2009, Macy's and Macy's ad agency JWT produced Yes, Virginia, a CGI animated Christmas special, after pitching and selling the idea to CBS. Yes, Virginia is a fictionalized version of her story.[26] The film was directed by Pete Circuitt and animated by Starz Animation, makers of Shane Acker's 9. It features the voice talents of Beatrice Miller as Virginia, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Neil Patrick Harris and Alfred Molina.[29]

The 2009 holiday season impacts from the "Yes, Virginia" special broadcast on the CBS television network on December 11, 2009, were: 1) "Yes, Virginia" reached more than 3.7 million television viewers, 2) the associated public relations effort resulted in a substantial lift in overall exposure during Macy's most critical season with 1.84 billion impressions generated, 3) On the night of the show on December 11, 2009, "Yes, Virginia" was Google's No. 1 and No.4 hottest search terms, 4) "Yes, Virginia" made TV Guide's coveted Hot List. USA Today said, "Like Santa himself, Virginia should be a welcome Christmas visitor for years to come." Parents Television Council named it the Best TV Show of the Week, and 5) Holiday sales for the five-week period ending January 2, 2010, achieved Macy's sales goals: $4.4 billion US in sales, 1% growth in same-store sales, and 29% growth of[26]

Since 2009, CBS has been the U.S. TV network broadcaster of Yes, Virginia.

For the Macy's 2010 Believe campaign, an animated character based on Virginia was part of and appeared in their 2010 holiday commercials, inviting children to stores to write "Yes Virginia Santa Letters," and at the Macy's department store on 34th and Broadway in Manhattan as the theme for its 2010 holiday windows. She was also represented as a balloon in the 2010 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.[30]

A 2012 recording by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and conductor John Morris Russell, entitled Home for the Holidays, features a dramatic reading of Virginia O'Hanlon's letter and Church's editorial response, with voice over performances by Alma Russell (the conductor's daughter) and well-known Broadway veteran Brian Stokes Mitchell. The narration is underscored by the orchestra performing Edward Elgar's "Nimrod" from Enigma Variations.

Yes, Virginia is the name of a Dresden Dolls album, followed by No, Virginia. The phrase is also mentioned in a song off the former album, "Mrs. O."



  1. ^ a b Campbell, W. Joseph (Spring 2005). "'"The grudging emergence of American journalism's classic editorial: New details about 'Is There A Santa Claus?.  
  2. ^ "Kathleen Guzman | Appraisers | Antiques Roadshow". PBS. 2012-01-08. Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  3. ^ "1897 "Yes, Virginia" Santa Claus Letter".  
  4. ^ a b Fernandez, Manny (2010-12-24). "To Virginia's Family, Santa Claus Is Still Real". The New York Times. pp. A23,A29.  
  5. ^ "Virginia, Now 70, Quits As Teacher; School Principal Who at 8 Asked 'Is There a Santa?' Is a Guest at Dinner" (Abstract of subscription PDF).  
  6. ^ Morrison, Jim "Santa Junior"; McElhany, Jennifer. "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". National Christmas Centre, Exhibits. National Christmas Centre. Archived from the original on Dec 27, 2011. Retrieved 2007-11-13. Throughout her life she received a steady stream of mail about the letter, and to each reply she attached an attractive printed copy of the editorial. 
  7. ^ "Yes Virginia — 66 years later". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Dec 24, 1963. Archived from the original on June 5, 2008. Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  8. ^ "Decades Later, Santa Claus Visits Author of Iconic ‘Yes Virginia’ Letter". Townsquare Media. Date 2012-12-11. Retrieved Dec 25, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Virginia O'Hanlon, Santa's Friend, Dies; Virginia O'Hanlon Dead at 81" (Abstract of subscription pdf). The New York Times. 1971-05-14. Retrieved 2007-10-29. Valatie, N. Y., May 13 – Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas, who as a child was reassured that "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", died today at the age of 81. 
  10. ^ "Virginia O'Hanlon - Chatham Rural Cemetery". Find A Grave. Retrieved 2011-02-14. 
  11. ^ "Yule Log Ceremony". Barnard Campus News.  
  12. ^ a b ""Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" in The World Encyclopedia of Christmas, by Gerry Bowler, Editor, 2000". Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Limited. 
  13. ^ "Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (TV 1974)". Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  14. ^ "Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (TV 1991)". Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  15. ^ "Gabe Pressman Retelling "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", 25 Dec 2008". NBC News – New York City. 2008-12-25. Retrieved 2011-01-04. 
  16. ^ Vincigueera, Thomas (1997-09-21). "Yes, Virginia, a Thousand Times Yes". (The New York Times). Retrieved 2010-12-27. 
  17. ^ "Christmas in New York: Lord and Taylor Christmas Holiday Window displays 2003 Photo Gallery". 2009-11-02. Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  18. ^ Haberman, Clyde (2004-12-24). "NYC - Yes, New York, There Was A Virginia". (The New York Times). Retrieved 2010-12-27. 
  19. ^ New York Times – Yes Virginia there is a scholarship at the Studio School
  20. ^ Studio School Virginia Scholarship Fund
  21. ^ Head of School Janet C. Rotter presents Virginia O'Hanlon scholarship
  22. ^ "Yes, Virginia, there is Cyberwar", July 7, 2010 - Sourcefire Vulnerability Research Team
  23. ^ "Yes, Virginia, There is a War on Terror", December 24, 2007 - The Huffington Post
  24. ^ Yes, Virginia…", by Joanne, 20 Dec 2010""". About English Idioms. 2010-12-10. Retrieved 2011-01-08. 
  25. ^ Make-A-Wish Foundation – Macy's – Mission Support Champion
  26. ^ a b c """On-Line Case Study of Macy's Believe Campaign and "Yes, Virginia. Cloribus – Global Advertising Archive. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  27. ^ Macy's Christmas Commercial: Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus! on YouTube
  28. ^ 2009 Macy's Christmas Commercial: Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus! featuring Queen Latifah on YouTube
  29. ^ "Yes, Virginia (TV 2009)". Retrieved 2011-01-28. 
  30. ^ Yes, Virginia" on CBS' The Early Show with Harry Smith on 17 Dec 2010""". CBS News. 2010-12-17. Retrieved 2011-01-05. 


  • American National Biography. "Virginia O'Hanlon". V. 16. 1999. pp. 645–646.
  • Thomas Vinciguerra (1997-09-21). "Yes, Virginia, A Thousand Times Yes". The Week in Review (The New York Times). 
  • Dresden Dolls album Yes, Virginia... (2006) and b-side compilation No, Virginia... (2008)

External links

  • Full text of the editorial with digital image from the original newspaper. From the Newseum, Washington, DC
  • The Myths of 'Yes, Virginia.' From the Newseum, Washington, DC
  • November 23, 2010 'Yes, Virginia' Family Day at the Newseum From the Newseum, Washington, DC
  • Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus (1974 animated) at the Internet Movie Database
  • Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus (1991) at the Internet Movie Database
  • Yes, Virginia (TV 2009) at the Internet Movie Database
  • Yes Virginia (2009) Animated Holiday Special on CBS. Official site.
  • Holiday Central
  • CBC radio interview of Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas in 1963
  • WBBM Chicago 1968 Mal Bellairs radio interview of Virginia O'Hanlon Douglas
  • Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus at Project Gutenberg (Audio files of the text by eight different readers)
  • WTEN – Albany PBS – video of Virginia O'Hanlon reading the editorial to children in the 1960s.
  • Decades Later, Santa Claus Visits Author of Iconic ‘Yes Virginia’ Letter.' From WGNA Albany, NY
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