*With apologies to the New York Sun.*
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.'
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
Virginia, your little friends are right. There used to be a Santa Claus, but not anymore.
Oh, he is real, dear girl. He most certainly exists. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist. But he has gotten out of the gift-giving game.
It all started a few years ago when agents from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration stormed into his workshop, waving a warrant. An elf disgruntled over Santa's decision not to stock decaf in the break room had dropped a dime, and when the agents arrived they found more than a dozen violations of federal rules.
Elves were making toys without proper safety equipment. Melted ice on the floor had pooled, creating a slip-and-fall hazard. There was no eye-wash station or Automated External Defibrilator in the facility, let alone an ADA-compliant sign for one… it went on and on. They walloped Santa with more than $70,000 in fines, those inspectors did, and forced him to come up with a remediation plan approved by a court-appointed special master within 60 days. That sort of took the wind out of old Santa's sails, if you know what I mean.
He was just getting over that when he was served with a certified, cease-and-desist letter from the lawyers at Mattel, accusing him of copyright infringement. Some of the trains the elves had been making looked too much like Mattel's Thomas the Tank Engine figure (at least so far as Mattel was concerned), and the company threatened to haul Santa into court for theft of intellectual property. He took it pretty hard, I must say.
Still, he probably would have let it go eventually if it hadn't been for the incident with the fighter jets. One of Santa's little helpers had, rather unhelpfully, forgotten to file a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration. So when radar picked up something that looked like a sleigh being pulled across the sky by eight tiny reindeer, a couple of nervous Nellies at the Pentagon grew concerned. Reindeer and sleighs simply do not fly—that is official Defense Department doctrine, Virginia. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little.
The Pentagon's little minds grew even more jittery when they calculated that this "sleigh," which they figured was probably Russian or Chinese, was transecting the hemisphere at speeds of roughly 1,800 miles per second. That is more than 3,000 times faster than the maximum speed of the F-15 Strike Eagle, the fastest plane in the U.S. military. So they sent up an entire squadron of F-22 Raptors from Tyndall Air Force Base to inform Santa that he was violating U.S. air space and bring him down for a frank heart-to-heart.
Well, Santa's droll little mouth drew down in a frown, and his knees shook, but not like a bowlful of jelly. More like a handful of maracas. Santa tried to explain that NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, was tracking him already, but they weren't buying it. Inter-service rivalry. You know how it is.
After that everybody seemed to pile on. Animal-rights activists tried to sneak a hidden camera into the reindeer stables to catch Santa doing whatever it was he must be doing to poor Rudolph to make his nose glow red. They were soon followed by a bunch of half-naked women from PETA who objected to making reindeer fly at all. The elves thought the demonstration was pretty spiffy, but Mrs. Claus did not approve, not one little bit.
Then the social-justice crowd got into the act. They were outraged by the idea of a white Christmas—let alone a straight, white, cisgender male running around the world acting like he was God's gift to children or something. #WhitePrivilegeChristmas started trending on Twitter, and it turned into a pretty vicious flame war.
Santa still would have stuck it out, I think, if it hadn't been for the neighborhood watches. A woman in Arkansas posted a message on Facebook about how some fat, bearded creep had climbed down her chimney in the middle of the night—and the next thing Santa knew, every time he landed on a roof he took incoming fire from camouflaged vigilantes with AR-15s and Winchester .308s.
So these days, Santa is kicking back in Boca Raton. But don't worry, Virginia. He still lives. And he'd very much like to keep it that way.
This column originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.