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Believing Is Seeing
by Leon Baxter
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Take a look at the “byline”. See my name? Leon. Noel backward. When people find out I was born on December 24th, on Christmas Eve, they always ask me, “Did your parents do that on purpose?” No. It was an accident. They wanted to call me Peter but just had difficulty with the spelling.

No, actually, my mom named me after my grandmother, Leona. It made no difference the day I was born. I’d have been Leon on Easter, Halloween, or Arbor Day. Just a coincidence I was born on Christmas Eve.

Well, I’m not sure it was really a coincidence. I don’t really put much faith in coincidences. I believe everything happens for a reason. I was meant to be “backwards-Noel-born-on-Christmas-Eve.”

Most kids love Christmas: the toys, the presents, Santa. But when I was a boy, I felt a special kinship to the holiday, a deeper connection than my peers. Maybe it was my imagination. Maybe all American boys growing up in the seventies thought their relationship with Christmas was different than those of their peers. But, I couldn’t imagine anyone feeling the way I did about the holiday.

Maybe it was because my birthday was just an hour and sixteen minutes short of falling on the big day. Maybe it was due to my name. No matter the reason, I always knew that Christmas was truly a magical time. I mean, I felt something in my stomach every year (and it wasn’t Grandmom’s fruit cake). I found myself smiling a lot in December. And, I loved hearing the Christmas carols and smelling pine. And, although I was excited about getting presents, boy, did I love giving them. The look, the surprise, on people’s faces was priceless. There was something truly warm and good about Christmas, and I felt it deep inside.

It could well be my earliest memory. It was the day I turned three. Actually, it was the night. I don’t remember anything about the day: my party, the presents, cake, nothing. I just recall Mom and Dad telling me that Santa was coming that night and to be sure not to let him see me, because he might take away the presents if I was caught peeking.

I woke up sometime during the night. I was bewildered and just barely three years old. I’d forgotten what night it was. I looked down at my Teddy Bear. I know it sounds cliché, but he really did have one of his button eyes missing. I’m sure I’d named him, but the name has long since been erased from my memory files.

I asked him, “Are you thirsty? Do you want some water?... Okay. I’ll get you some.” I got up and walked to the bathroom to get Teddy his drink and relieve myself. To reach my destination, I had to travel through the living room, the same living room that Santa would be visiting that very night.

What are the odds?... Yep, you guessed it. As I passed the living room I heard screams from both Mom and Dad, “Leon, get back to bed! Don’t let Santa see you! Hurry up, or he’ll take away the presents.”

What the heck were they talking... oh, yeah. It was Christmas. I looked toward their clamoring. There were my parents, and across the room, to their right, stood the man. There he was in all of his Yule tide glory: Father Christmas, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus. He stood in his red suit. His white beard hung low, a la two-thirds of ZZ Top. He was definitely thinner than all the movies, cartoons, and pictures, but the camera adds ten pounds.

He wasn’t really doing anything when I looked at him. His hands were empty. No opening his sack. No finger aside his nose. He didn’t say anything to me. I guess he really didn’t have time to. For as soon as I put all the pieces together, I was out of that room faster than you could say, “Dasher.” I ran back to my bed, hopped under the sheets, covered my head, got control of my bladder, and ignored the thirsty beverage pleas from Teddy.

Luckily for me either my parents’ screams distracted the Jolly Old Elf long enough to allow me to escape to my room without being noticed, or, more than likely, he decided to give me a second chance. Because when I awoke that next morning, the Christmas tree was surrounded by presents for me from the Man in Red.

Years later, as I progressed through grade school, for some reason the Santa-believers started dropping like flies. “Santa’s not real,” they’d say. “It’s your parents. they buy you the stuff.”

“Maybe it’s your parents,” I’d respond. “But, I know what I saw.”

Until one day, I was the last of my kind in my class. Everyone else made fun of me for believing in Santa. They called me a baby. And, the funny thing is, it really didn’t hurt me, because I knew the truth. I saw Santa. I tried explaining my experience every December, and my friends would try to convince me otherwise: “It probably was your dad.”

“No, my dad was standing next to my mom.”

“Maybe it was one of your dad’s friends dressed up.”

“Why would someone dress up as Santa and stand in my living room on Christmas Eve, just in case a toddler had to go pee? Not logical.”

Then, one year a friend told me, “Well, if I’d seen him, maybe I’d believe in Santa, too. Seeing is believing.”

I shook my head and told him, “No. If you believed, maybe you’d have seen him. Believing is seeing.”

Now, I’m all grown up (at least according to my driver’s license, I am). I can’t explain what I saw that night on December 24th in 1971, but I really don’t try to.

See, right now, much of our society sees the negative in the world. The media focuses on the bad, and we buy into it: Bird flu epidemic, Mad Cow disease, kidnappings, terror alerts. And, the more we focus on these things, the worse they seem to get.

We really need to focus on the good things in life: the Mother Theresas and Rosa Parks, the telemarketing No Call List, the miracle of life, strong and healthy relationships, happy families, and life’s Kris Kringles. When we believe we’ll begin to see them again.

And, once you see, no one can take it away.


Leon Scott Baxter is a West Coast writer who lives with his wife and two daughters in California. To see more of his work, go to

Published: Dec 18,2008 21:51
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