By Larry Peterson
Most folks do not know much about a man by the name of Francis Pharcellus Church. Heck, most people have never even heard of him. However, to me, he is one of the most excellent newspaper editors of all time. That is because he took on a skeptical world and dared try to prove the existence of Santa Claus.
Francis Church was born in Rochester, New York, on February 22, 1839. At the age of 21, he graduated from Columbia College (now Columbia University). Francis had considered a career in law but opted instead for a life in journalism.
During the Civil War, he worked as a war correspondent. Together with his brother, William, he worked on the Army and Navy Journal. In 1869 Francis and William launched a literary publication called Galaxy Magazine. Contributors to Galaxy included Mark Twain and Henry James. But it was his position at the NewYork Sun that would propel him to fame. And all he had to do was reach into his heart and write what he was feeling and believing.
A letter had arrived at the editorial office of the New York Sun. The letter read: Dear Editor—I am eight years old. Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it is so. Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus?
Virginia O’Hanlon 115 W. 95th St.
Francis P. Church just happened to be the lead editorial writer for the paper. He had a reputation as a cynical man who was an agnostic, and for the most part, more or less a grouch. Ironically, he was given the task to answer.
What follows is the exact letter written by Francis Pharcellus Church and printed in The New York Sun on Septemeber 21, 1897. It was directed to Virginia O’Hanlon. What follows is only parts of the letter. To see the entire letter, just click on the link above.
Dear Virginia, your friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible to their little minds…
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 its 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 Virginia. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished…
Not believe in Santa Claus! Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world….
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-time ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Francis Pharcellus Church, a cynic, and grouch, latched onto a hidden faith and gave Virginia and all those children from 1897 and after, the joy of believing in Santa Claus. I think that Santa is God’s Christmas angel, and HE allows him to do his thing every Christmas Eve. Go ahead; I dare you—prove me wrong.
Copyright©Larry Peterson 2018