The timeless question was asked in 1897 by eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon.

”Is there a Santa Claus?”

Her daddy, a very wise man, suggested that Virginia write a letter to the New York Sun newspaper for authoritative confirmation of the existence of Santa Claus.

Francis P. Church, a columnist for the Sun, replied personally to little Virginia’s letter on the newspaper’s editorial page.

The Sun reprinted that column every Christmas Eve for almost 50 years until the paper ceased publishing.

Some critics say that it is wrong to encourage children to believe in a myth.

Well, suffice it to say that this publisher STILL believes in Santa Claus, and says let the children believe as long as they want to, and fooey and shame on all of the spoil-sports, Grinches and Scrooges who would deny these little ones the opportunity to hold onto their child-like innocence and wonder just a little longer!

As a life-long believer myself (and as a licensed, ordained Baptist minister) I would like to point out that I see nothing wrong or un-Christian with children believing in the spirit of Santa Claus, whose kind, giving nature is the embodiment of the generosity and benevolence of a real-live Christian man named Saint Nicholas. If you’ve never read about this fascinating historical figure from Christian history, take time to do so. It will forever change your mind about how you feel about the whole Santa thing.

Real? You’re doggone straight … ol’ Santa’s as real as they come!

In case you have never read it — or even if you have — here it is again.

We take pleasure in answering at once and thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

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 O’Hanlon

115 West Ninety-fifth Street

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 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, not 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.

– Francis P. Church

Now, you’re probably wondering why I am writing about Christmas when its not even Halloween yet.

For many years, every newspaper that I have ever had the privilege of being associated with has printed children’s Letters to Santa just before the Christmastime holidays.

And this year, we’re pleased to announce that young’uns from right here in Hancock County – ages birth through 2nd grade – can send in their own letters about what Christmas means to them, memories they have of special Christmases past, and, yes, what they hope to find under their trees on Christmas morning.

Letters to Santa forms can be found in this issue of the Eagle, but children are welcome to use plain paper if needed to pen their letters. And in this hi-tech world we live in, they can even send em by email.

We just need the child’s name, age/grade (if in school).

The reason I am telling you about this now is that the children’s letters will be printed in a very special magazine that will be distributed the week of Nov. 22, and because of that early print date (so that the magazine will be out in plenty of time for Christmastime), we will need all letters turned in no later than 2 p.m. on Oct. 25. (Children who attend Hancock Co. Elementary School may drop their letters off at the school office; others may be mailed to P.O. Box 215, Sneedville, TN 37869, or emailed to: hancockeagle@therogersvillereview.com.)

Please note: To preserve the unique child-like innocence and character of each letter, we will NOT correct for spelling/grammar, and will print each as it is written, for to do otherwise would totally alter their heart-warming efforts to communicate their holiday wishes.

But hey, this magazine isn’t just for kids’ letters … middle- and high-school students (and adults!) are welcome to write letters telling what Christmas means to you, too, what you are thankful for, and what your wish is for this Yuletide season.

Maybe you have some pictures tucked away in a photo album or scrapbook of Christmastimes long ago that you would like to share, or family recipes for a delicious family meal.

It will be fun and we invite you to take part in this first-ever “Hancock Holidays” magazine!