The weather was hot, with a slight breeze blowing in from the ocean, carrying a spice of salt and red wine across the city. Santa Claus was taking a few days of August vacation, walking along La Canebière in the city of Marseilles toward the old port. He had always liked southern France, but at the moment he was wondering why he was out walking in this August weather. To escape the heat, he stepped into a cool blue hotel bar.
As the hostess was leading him to a table, he stopped suddenly near a man with a long but neatly trimmed white beard, sitting at the bar. “Nick?” Santa said.
Saint Nicholas turned and said, “Well, look who the reindeer dragged in! Santa, how long has it been? Have a seat.” Instead of going to his table, Santa sat down at the bar with Saint Nicholas.
“I almost didn’t recognize you,” Saint Nicholas said. “Hair back in a ponytail—”
“It’s hot out there,” Santa said.
“And sunglasses. You’re looking good, Mr. Claus, looking good. Tan pants, white shirt, you look like one of the natives here.”
“It’s good to see you, Nick. It has been a while.”
“What are you drinking?” Saint Nicolas said. “I’ll buy the first round. I’m having straight Scotch.”
“White wine spritzer for me,” said Santa. “I just bought your last book, by the way. It’s on my list to read.”
Saint Nicolas rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell me that. I know you don’t want to read a book of theology.” He slapped Santa on the back. “I just remembered the last time I saw you, you were with your son. How’s he doing?”
“Oh…” Santa paused, raised his eyebrows. “He’s at the University of Edinburgh studying folklore. He’s writing his thesis on why people believe in mythical beings.”
“Like elves,” said Saint Nicolas.
“Yeah, elves, leprechauns, or… what are those Japanese… kami, I think they’re called. Anyway, all over the world, there’s something. Hard to believe my own kid is doing this. Where in the world did he get an interest in a topic like that?”
“Maybe his guardian angel nudged him into it.”
“Another mythical being,” said Santa.
“Now I’m disagreeing with you there,” said Saint Nicolas. “Angels are real. But here are our drinks.” He raised his glass. “L’chaim.”
Santa took a drink as well. “Nick,” he said, “how can you sit there and tell me you don’t believe in elves but you believe in angels?”
“Well, because angels are real. Pretty simple answer.”
“Have you ever seen an angel?”
Saint Nicolas squinted and smiled. “Have you ever seen oxygen? I don’t need to see something to know it’s real.”
“Yeah,” Santa said. “There’s logic there, but I still don’t find that persuasive. This drink is almost gone. Next round on me.”
“You know,” Saint Nicolas said with a sardonic smile, “it’s your guardian angel making you buy the next round.”
“Hey, I know better than to get into a rhetorical argument with you,” Santa said. “I was a hospitality major in college. While you were studying the ancient Greeks, I was taking classes in how to be jolly.”
“Like a bowl full of jelly,” Saint Nicolas said.
“Amen,” said Santa Claus, and they raised their drinks to toast one another.
Here where I’m sitting, way down yonder in the land of cotton, in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s Christmas day, and wherever you are on the earth, or if you are reading this in the future somewhere off the earth, I wish you a glorious holiday.