“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
The U.S. Postal Service has said “no” to “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
The 100th anniversary of this now-famous editorial came and went in 1997 without recognition by the USPS. WrForever Stampsitten by Francis Pharcellus Church in response to a letter to New York’s The Sun by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, it was first published in that newspaper on Sept. 21, 1897.
Virginia wrote: “Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”
Church’s reply to the innocent question is as authentic a piece of Americana as there is, and it’s a shame that we have been unable to find a way to honor it on postage.
In fact, I think it is a national embarrassment that another country, Nicaragua, did so in 1973 with a set of nine stamps and a souvenir sheet (Scott 912-917, C846-C848a), while it has been ignored here. Figure 3 shows the souvenir sheet.
I will not quote the entire response, but the last two paragraphs are worth a read by adults as we think about the magic of Christmas:
“You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what make the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
“No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
Church died April 11, 1906. The next day, The Sun, which never bylined its editorials, revealed that he was the author of that editorial.
Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas died at 81 in 1971 after a career as an educator of disabled children. In 1957, she told The New York Times: “The verities of the editorial are as true as they ever were. And my prayer is that all the world will believe in them … .”
During my service on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (1998-2010), it approved the subject for a future year, but it seems that the Postal Service staff was unable to come up with a way to portray it. I hope as we look to the 125th anniversary in 2022, another effort will be made.
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