W. Joseph Campbell

Adapting ‘Yes, Virginia': Interestingly done

In 1897, New York Sun on December 23, 2009 at 11:13 am

The editorial “Is There A Santa Claus?” is inarguably the most famous in American journalism.

It was published September 21, 1897, in the New York Sun, in response to the query of a New York City girl named Virginia O’Hanlon. She had written to the newspaper shortly after her eighth birthday, asking:

“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?”

The editorial written in reply reassured the little girl and included these memorable passages:

Virginia O'Hanlon

“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.”

Over the years, the phrase “Yes, Virginia,” has become a cliche, invoked in contexts of all kinds, most of them unrelated to the editorial, Christmastime, and American journalism.

The editorial has become the centerpiece of a number of enduring myths. And it has inspired no small amount of imitation, some of it flip, most of it utterly forgettable.

A notable exception, though, was the “Yes, Virginia,” adaptation posted last week by technology writer Michael S. Malone at his “Silicon Insider”  column at ABCNews.com.

Malone’s takeoff was amusing, even ingenious. He pitched the column as a  reply to a 21st century Virginia O’Hanlon, who had written to ABCNews.com, asking:

“Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. My dad says, ‘If you read it on the Web, it must be so.’ Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

In a reply embedded with knowing references to iphones, quarks, and Facebook, Malone wrote:

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. I know if you surf the Web you’ll be linked to more web pages and blogs that suggest that he is just a myth or worse, a joke than that he is real. Saddest of all are those sites that argue that Santa Claus is impossible, that reindeer can’t fly or that no one could visit so many homes in a single night. These last stories are written by confused adults who don’t believe in miracles and want to force children to think as they do. They call it ‘being realistic.’ …

“Oh, Virginia, there are so many miracles. Think of that computer chip in your Wii or iPhone that goes through as many thoughts in a second as you will have heartbeats in your entire life. Or of those thousands of people in the world now who carry around transplanted hearts and livers and lungs. Or those amazing rovers that explored the surface of Mars. Even that H1N1 flu shot you just got. These are miracles, Virginia, every one of them. …

“Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in Facebook, or electrons, or black holes. Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that doesn’t mean there is no Santa Claus. No one has seen a quark either, or a computer bit, but that’s no proof they aren’t there. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor adults can see. Great new discoveries and wonderful acts of human kindness are made every day. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen or unseeable in this world. …

“No Santa Claus? Of course there is. He has been with us now for a thousand years. As long as little boys and girls like you believe in miracles, Santa Claus will gladden the heart of childhood. And he will live forever.”

Malone’s column may not be quite as stirring, evocative, or cerebral as the Sun‘s 1897 original. But it’s an althogether imaginative, accessible, and even wry adaptation.

And it’s well worth a second read.

WJC

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  1. [...] be discussing American journalism’s best-known, most-reprinted editorial at a program tomorrow afternoon at the Newseum, the $450 million museum of news on Pennsylvania [...]

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