My little red-nosed buddy stopped off for a visit on his way back up to the North Pole. I was glad to see him again. We had a few cocktails, told a few stories. I asked where he’d been.
“Down in old Mexico,“ he said. “Catchin’ some rays and resting up for the big night. I hated flying back across the Mexico/US border, though. Not gonna be a merry Christmas for those kids in cages.”
He got kind of quiet, so I changed the subject. “How’s Santa? Everything ready to go? The other reindeer in shape?”
“Santa’s doing better. He was in rehab for a couple months. Got hooked on the magic dust, if you get me. I don’t know about the other reindeer. I don’t hang with those guys.”
I ordered us another round. G and T for me. Eggnog for him. I guess the alcohol was making me kind of philosophical because I said, “I was thinking about you and Santa recently. You two kind of fit the archetypes of most world mythologies. You know, the hero and the Saint. Real Joseph Campbell stuff.”
“Sounds like polar bear poop to me.”
“No, really. Think about it. Santa lives a life of service, giving to others. And you’re the hero who saved Christmas.”
“That’s not the way I see it.”
“What do you mean?”
He knocked back his second eggnog and waggled an antler at the bartender, signaling for another. “You know the song. The other reindeer wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” He tapped a hoof to his glowing nose. “I’m different. Reindeer are tribal. Just like you humans, they’re biased against the unfamiliar. Otherness freaks them out.”
“But you won them over.”
“That’s the point. I shouldn’t have had to. I proved I was useful; that’s all. Those guys aren’t my friends. They accept me because I have utility. Real friends look past your flaws.”
I had to admit, he had a point.
“Besides,” he went on, “all this seasonal fuss is just a way to avoid thinking about the absurd nature of existence. It’s as pointless as…shopping.”
“But we can give our lives meaning. What about selflessness? Isn’t that what Christmas is supposed to be all about?”
The bartender brought him his eggnog. He took a long drink and smiled at me. At least I think it was a smile.
“Yes. That’s what Christmas is supposed to be about, but what’s the other big message? ‘Be good, and you’ll get stuff.’ It’s basic operant conditioning, the same way you’d train a dog. It relieves one of the necessity to thimpk.”
“Think. I meant think. Sorry. This is some gooood eggnog.”
I paid the tab and we went outside. I was hoping the fresh air would sober him up. We walked in silence for a bit, looking at the twinkling Christmas lights.
“Sorry to be a downer,” he said. “I know you humans like your holidays.”
“That’s all right. It’s good to look at things from someone else’s perspective once in a while. And you’ve got a lot of cred when it comes to Christmas.”
He looked up, past the lights, to the stars beyond. “You know that other song? ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’? There’s one line in that song that rings true.” He hiccuped and leaned against a lamppost.
He took a stumbling run, leapt into the air, and caught an updraft.
“The line,” I yelled. “What is it?”
He looped back around and shouted, “Be good, for goodness’ sake.”
Then he flew off into the night.