My phone rings.

“Hello?” I say.

“Yes. Hello, ” says the child’s voice. “Is this Mister Sean?”

“Speaking. Although please don’t call me ‘Mister Sean,’ because it makes me feel like a PBS children’s host.”

“Oh. What am I supposed to call you?”

“Please, call me Your Honor. Who am I speaking to?”

“Hi, my name is Rachel.”

“Nice to meet you, Rachel, may I ask you a question?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m seven.”

“And how did you get this number?”

“Your wife gave my mom your number. She said I could call you. Is that okay?”

“Perfectly okay. What can I do for you?”

“Well. Um. My brother told me Santa Claus is fake.”

“He did what?”

“Uh-huh. And then I started crying. And my mom told me I should talk to you because you sometimes talk to kids. But nobody knew how to get ahold of you.”

“So how did you manage to reach me?”

“Well, my mom’s cousin said she knew your wife’s uncle, so my aunt called her friend in Century, and then she called a lady from Andalusia, and her cousin gave us your wife’s brother-in-law’s number, and anyway, now I’m talking to you. I have a question to ask.”

“Okay. Shoot.”

“Do you think Santa is real?”

Long pause.

“Do I think Santa is real?”

“Yes.”

“Of course he’s real, Rachel. Why would you even ask?”

“Because I don’t know what to believe anymore. May I ask you another question, Mister Sean. How do you know he’s real?”

“Well, for one thing, Rachel, I’ve met him.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Yuh-huh.”

“You’ve met Santa? The REAL one? Because the one at the Dillards is fake.”

“First off, the one at Dillards is not fake. And the one at Super Target isn’t either.”

“They aren’t?”

“No, ma’am. These men are all Sentinels Of Santa. ‘SOS’ for short.”

“Huh?”

“That’s right. These are men imbued with the legal authority of Santa, and all the fiscally affirmed rights thereof. These agents of the North Pole undergo rigorous training to earn the rank of Sentinel.”

“No.”

“Yes. And once they are promoted to SOS, they are charged with the responsibility of gathering Christmas requests from children all over the nation and delivering them to Santa.”

“Huh?”

“It’s sorta like the NASCAR pit crew. They might not be Dale Earnhardt Jr. himself, but they dang sure rotate his tires. So they’re pretty close to the head honcho.”

“Wait. I’m confused. I just want to know if Santa is real. My brother said Santa is just a lie people make up for kids.”

“Rachel. I know this will be hard to hear. But your brother is—no offense—a nincompoop.”

“What’s that?”

“Someone who doesn’t believe in Santa. Anyone who doesn’t believe in Santa is a major mouthbreather.”

“Serious?”

“As thrombosis.”

Silence.

“Listen, Rachel, are you a churchgoer?”

“Yeah.”

“What kind of church do you go to?”

“My mom is Presbyterian and my dad watches football.”

“Okay. So do you know what saints are?”

“Yes. I do. They won the Superbowl before I was born.”

“No. Different saints. Saints are people with an exceptional degree of closeness to God.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means they’re people just like you and me, only they are super focused on doing good stuff for other people. This has earned them the title of Saint. They’re really nice folks, and we recognize them as special because of their selflessness.”

“You mean, people like my grandma?”

“Well. Usually, saints are, technically, dead.”

“My grandma is only 73.”

“So she has a long way left to go.”

“Are you saying Santa is a saint?”

“Yes. I am. He was named Saint Nicholas. He was a bishop in ancient Greece, modern-day Turkey. Now, I know this is a lot to process, but try to keep up, Rachel. Saint Nick is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students in various cities and countries around Europe.”

“What is a pawnbroker?”

“Never mind. Saint Nick got his reputation through the habit of secret gift-giving. It was how he got his kicks. He gave presents to people. He accepted no credit.”

“Wow.”

“The Dutch called him Sinterklass.”

“Sinter-what?”

“The Mexicans call him Pancho Claus.”

“Really?”

“The Chinese call him Shen Dang Lao Ren.”

“Shen-whosit?”

“The Irish call him Santy.”

“Santy?”

“People in Austin, Texas, call him Willie.”

“Huh?”

“The Russians call him Дед Мороз.”

“How do you know all this?”

“The Norwegians call him JULEGRØT.”

“Wait, what?”

“The Swedish call him Tomte.”

“Is this true?”

“The point is, Rachel, the whole WORLD can’t be wrong about Santa, can they? Saint Nick was all about love and kindness. That was the whole basis of his life. Does that sound fake to you?”

“Well. I don’t know. I just want to know where my bike came from. I just want to know if Santa is a real man, or if it’s all just an act.”

“Alright, Rachel. How about you try this? Get your mother to drive you into town. Go to Dillards. Buy a nice present.”

“Okay.”

“Now. Give that present to someone who really needs it. Someone truly in need. And do it in secret. Without accepting any credit. Just like Saint Nick.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Now tell me something. After you’re finished doing that, and you’re feeling good inside, all warm and squishy, like you’ve just won the lottery …”

“Yes?”

“If someone’s snotty brother were to call you a fake, would you really care?”

Pause.

“You’re right,” she says. “I always knew my brother was an idiot.”

“Let’s not use that word.”

“Sorry, Your Honor.”

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].

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