Saturday, December 10, 2016

Prompt #270 – Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

Over a hundred years ago, eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial on Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps. I've read Virginia's letter and Francis Church's reply every year during December for many years. I hope it will touch your heart as much as it always touches mine.

The Editorial

    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?


    VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    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 VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike 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! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? 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. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

    You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes 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.


The first poem I ever had published was a letter to Santa that I wrote in December of 1956 (I had just turned 8 years old and still believed in Santa Claus). My poem was published in the Grover Cleveland Elementary School newspaper. Happily, my mom saved all those early writings, and I have an original copy of the newspaper.

Your prompt for this week is to write a letter to Santa in which you list the things that you wish for. These needn’t be material things!You may also consider writing about what you believe or need to believe.


1. Think in terms of non-material gifts you’d like to receive. (For example: spiritual well-being, healing from (and cures for) illnesses, an end to homelessness and hunger, peace in the world.)

2. Think about your family members and friends. What would you most like for them?

3. Is there a relationship in your life that needs healing? What would you ask for in terms of that relationship.

4. What about our world? What would you ask for?

5. Is there something you want or need to believe? How would you ask for that belief?


1. Observe the usual caveats: avoid the passive voice, eliminate “ing” endings wherever you can, don’t use too many adjectives.

2. Use more one-syllable words than multi-syllable words in your last couple of lines (think in terms of strong verbs and no superfluous language).

3. Try (minimal) repetition from another part of the poem—sometimes this can work very well.

4. Try to link the end of your poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.

5.  Write beyond the last line, then go back and find the last line hidden in what you’ve written.

6. Leave your reader something to reflect upon.

7. Point toward something broader than the obvious content of your poem.

8. You may want to try a prose poem  or to use letter format. Here's a letter from Santa Claus that Mark Twain wrote for his daughter Susie:

Mark Twain's Letter from Santa Claus
Written for His Daughter Susie

Palace of St. Nicholas
In the Moon
Christmas Morning


I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me by the hand of your mother and your nurses; I have also read those which you little people have written me with your own hands--for although you did not use any characters that are in grown peoples' alphabet, you used the characters that all children in all lands on earth and in the twinkling stars use; and as all my subjects in the moon are children and use no character but that, you will easily understand that I can read your and your baby sister's jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters—I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself—and kissed both of you, too, because you are good children, well trained, nice mannered, and about the most obedient little people I ever saw. But in the letter which you dictated there were some words which I could not make out for certain, and one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock. Our last lot of kitchen furniture for dolls has just gone to a very poor little child in the North Star away up, in the cold country above the Big Dipper. Your mama can show you that star and you will say: "Little Snow Flake," (for that is the child's name) "I'm glad you got that furniture, for you need it more than I." That is, you must write that, with your own hand, and Snow Flake will write you an answer. If you only spoke it she wouldn't hear you. Make your letter light and thin, for the distance is great and the postage very heavy.

There was a word or two in your mama's letter which I couldn't be certain of. I took it to be "a trunk full of doll's clothes." Is that it? I will call at your kitchen door about nine o'clock this morning to inquire. But I must not see anybody and I must not speak to anybody but you. When the kitchen doorbell rings, George must be blindfolded and sent to open the door. Then he must go back to the dining room or the china closet and take the cook with him. You must tell George he must walk on tiptoe and not speak—otherwise he will die someday. Then you must go up to the nursery and stand on a chair or the nurse's bed and put your car to the speaking tube that leads down to the kitchen and when I whistle through it you must speak in the tube and say, "Welcome, Santa Claus!" Then I will ask whether it was a trunk you ordered or not. If you say it was, I shall ask you what color you want the trunk to be. Your mama will help you to name a nice color and then you must tell me every single thing in detail which you want the trunk to contain. Then when I say "Good-by and a merry Christmas to my little Susie Clemens," you must say "Good-by, good old Santa Claus, I thank you very much and please tell that little Snow Flake I will look at her star tonight and she must look down here—I will be right in the west bay window; and every fine night I will look at her star and say, 'I know somebody up there and like her, too.' " Then you must go down into the library and make George close all the doors that open into the main hall, and everybody must keep still for a little while. I will go to the moon and get those things and in a few minutes I will come down the chimney that belongs to the fireplace that is in the hall—if it is a trunk you want—because I couldn't get such a thing as a trunk down the nursery chimney, you know.

People may talk if they want, until they hear my footsteps in the hall. Then you tell them to keep quiet a little while till I go back up the chimney. Maybe you will not hear my footsteps at all—so you may go now and then and peep through the dining-room doors, and by and by you will see that thing which you want, right under the piano in the drawing room-for I shall put it there. If I should leave any snow in the hall, you must tell George to sweep it into the fireplace, for I haven't time to do such things. George must not use a broom, but a rag—else he will die someday. You must watch George and not let him run into danger. If my boot should leave a stain on the marble, George must not holystone it away. Leave it there always in memory of my visit; and whenever you look at it or show it to anybody you must let it remind you to be a good little girl. Whenever you are naughty and somebody points to that mark which your good old Santa Claus's boot made on the marble, what will you say, little sweetheart?

Good-by for a few minutes, till I come down to the world and ring the kitchen doorbell.

Your loving SANTA CLAUS
Whom people sometimes call "The Man in the Moon"


  1. One of my favorite holiday traditions is to read this every year! Thank you for posting it and for providing a related poetry prompt!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Sandy! So glad you like the post and prompt.

  2. So beautiful, thank you, Adele!

  3. I've heard of "Yes, Virginia" but never read the letter. Thank you for this.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Carole! So glad you were able to read the "whole story" here.

  4. Dear Santa:

    Mother passed last month.
    Dress up your man in the moon and send him
    to greet her.
    Calm her.
    Her 90 days have yet to pass.
    Assure her all is well.
    She's going to a better home.
    She'll flourish.
    People will encourage and appreciate her.
    Dear Santa,
    Tell her
    when I look at the new moon
    I will think of her
    all kind mothers

    1. My sincerest condolences to you, Risa, on your mom's passing. This is a lovely poem in her memory and it so beautifully incorporates Mark Twain's letter to his daughter and his "man in the moon." Thank you so much for sharing this with us—I hope you found some comfort in writing.

    2. How beautiful, Risa! Please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother. Thank for for letting us read your beautiful poem-remembrance.

    3. Thank you, Adele and Jamie!

    4. Amita Jayaraman (Mumbai)December 15, 2016 at 8:37 AM

      My condolences to you, dear Risa. I enjoy reading your poems and thank you for sharing them.

    5. My condolences to you, Risa. May your mom's memory become a blessing.