I grew up the youngest of four children, and my role in the family was to be credulous. On Christmas Eve we would pile into my father’s Dodge and drive to an uncle’s house in some distant suburb. In the backseat, my brothers and sisters would scan the sky and try to spot Santa Claus. “Over there,” they’d say, pointing. But by the time I looked he was always gone.
I’ve written before about the so-called War on Christmas, but I don’t entirely get the distinction between the secular and religious versions of the holiday. Both are about scanning the skies, and waiting, and finally the arrival.
My son, who is nine, tracks Santa Claus online now. It is hard to know exactly how credulous he is, or if he is as eager a believer as I was. I think he is shrewd enough to understand that as long as the gifts keep coming, there is no need to ask too many questions. He believes in acquisition and in unwrapping things and in piles of consumer goods reaching to the ceiling. Today, Christmas Eve, he came home from his best friend’s house with a Christmas present. The boys have never exchanged gifts before and AJ didn’t have anything for his friend. He was taken by surprise. So he went up to his room and for the next half-hour or so, I could hear him digging through the mess of his closet, looking for something that could be re-purposed into a last-minute gift. He finally settled on a bit of leftover Halloween party swag. His buddy loved it.
Tonight we’ll be driving to another Christmas Eve party and scanning the skies again. I don't know if my son believes or disbelieves. But on Christmas Eve, you have to look. It is our job, for this night at least, to be credulous.