From the Dec. 22, 1978 Gazette

On the way home from a cup o’ kindness at Elizabeth Colter’s little white house on Bluefish Point a few evenings ago, I decided that the answer has to be yes.

The question was: Do you believe in Santa Claus?

Ella Cullen had brought it up.

Look: are you sure the children have gone to bed? It would be a shame if anything we’re about to say were to undermine their innocent faith in Daddy’s credit card and such charming mythological characters as Sears Roebuck and Filene’s and the United Parcel Service. We’ll not be overheard?

As flatly as she might say she is persuaded there is such a thing as the New Bedford Gas and Edison Light Company, Mrs. Robert Cullen had said she has always believed in Santa Claus, does so now, always will. He is not a disembodied spirit like the central character of Francis P. Church’s yes-Virginia editorial. He lives, breathes, digests his victuals, and has been known to stop outside the house on Pond Lot Road and ring his bell, which sounds clear and sweet and which signifies that it’s 12 o’clock and all’s well.

That’s one Santa Claus, hurrying through the night on Christmas Eve not to deliver packages but to see that people have remembered and have been remembered. We do not have his Bertillon measurements, but he is big enough to swing a bell, and there is no reason to believe or disbelieve that he looks like the Santa invented by Clement Clarke Moore and Thomas Naste, but let’s talk know about my Santa Claus. It seems to me that when people say they believe in Santa they should say which one.

I’ve never actually seen my Santa Claus. Likewise, I have never seen an atom, the OPEC ministers, a watt, the wind in the willows, or a pneumococcus. It is only from observation of such things’ effects that I can — indeed, must — conclude that they exist.

My Santa Claus is a germ.

Test any alternative theory. Clement Moore’s jolly St. Nick, tumbling across the sky against the grain of the Logan Airport holding patterns, with his Tinker Toy rig jackknifing in the wind and Donder and Blitzen tacking port while those other six goats are clawing to starboard — that Santa Claus just won’t do. I have no difficulties with the proposition that the hohoho Santa can come down a couple of hundred million chimneys simultaneously — if you can believe television can deliver a war or an inauguration down that many aerials at one time, you can believe that. But getting a grand piano — or was it a self-cleaning oven she wanted this year? — down an eight-inch flue is too much. What other options are there options are there? Belief in Dickens’s spirit of Christmas requires belief in the spontaneous repentance of evil old men. Doesn’t happen. If you believe Santa Claus is a confection of the advertising racket, like Teddy Kennedy or 24-hour-a-day football, you’ll believe anything.

What’s left?

Look at it the way a scientist would. If 220 million people came down with the same symptoms within a few hours of each other, if they exhibited the same behavior, most especially if their conduct were at radical variance with their established norms, any epidemiologist worth his white smock and beakerful of coffee would attribute the outbreak to a common cause, a single vector. A germ.

That face flushed, the gait staggering, the eyes shining. Uncontrollable hankering to clap strangers on the back and cry them a merry, merry, to embrace casual acquaintances, sniffle at sight of small children’s faces looking up, sing off-key, call attention to universe’s lighting effects at nightfall. Possibly an unidentified virus. Happens this way around mid-December every year. Infection likely to replicate itself at comparable date next year.

We’re all of us little walking sacks of Santaclausosis. For a few improbable hours we are good will to men. We are Santa Claus.

So that’s the one I believe in, and it depresses me to reflect that he can’t do very much to make Christmas as happy everywhere as it will be in the households in our town.

Each of us knows where, here on this Island, certain Santa Clauses are trying to do something. The agency may be a church, a lodge, Red Stocking, a club, the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, the cerebral palsy camp, I don’t know how many honest and well run doers of good will. Because they serve so many hundreds indeed thousands of people who’d not have the help if it weren’t for them, and because their needs are great and growing, and because in such a small community health and security and happiness are things we can none of us have if we all don’t — for my own reasons, I think I’ll slip a small gift into the stocking of the hospital and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. Don’t suppose I can afford it. Pretty sure I can’t not afford it. I don’t care to disillusion a firm believer in Santa Claus. Me.