When two great forces collide, dear friends, one must step aside. And so it came to pass. It pains me to detail such a piteous spectacle, but . . . . .

The other day, they threw Santa Claus out of McDonald's.

Nor was it just any McDonald's. It was the McDonald's in Mazza Gallerie, a shopping center at Friendship Heights.

Did I say "a shopping center?" Folks, Mazza Gallerie may be the ritziest, costliest shopping center on this here earth.

They sell cheese there that costs as much per pound as steak. They sell fabric there that costs $50 a square yard. It wouldn't amaze me if they charged you $14.95 to take a deep breath.

So maybe that's why the Mazza McDonald's gave St. Nick the old heave-ho. If you're a McDonald's in a shopping center that drips dollars, maybe you think it's bad for the image to have a guy in a red suit chanting ho-ho-ho. Maybe you think it's beneath the dignity of the surroundings to have some heavy-set cat with a white beard interrupting all that french-fry munching.

Or maybe you're adhering to a policy that could use some bending. Which, in fact, appears to have been the case.

According to Terri Capatosto, media relations supervisor for McDonald's, the Santa who was asked to leave worked for F.A.O. Schwarz, a Mazza Gallerie toy store. He was booted not because he was making a scene, not because he was standing in the way of burger buyers, not because McDonald's hates Christmas, but because he was handing out promotional material for Schwarz's.

"We permit no one to solicit," said Capatosto. "Their rent-a-Santa was passing out balloons and printed material. Our manager went up to the Santa, explained our policy, and asked him to leave." Which Santa did, without incident.

Because it's a busy time of year for him, Santa was unavailable for comment. But Fernando Bermudez, manager of Schwarz's, more than made up for it.

"It was the way in which he was asked to leave," Bermudez said. "It was abruptly . . . . Having Santa is something that is supposed to be nice for the whole center and not just for the benefit of our store. It would have been okay with us if he gave out McDonald's balloons."

I can understand why McDonald's is reluctant to play host to solicitors. But isn't Santa a little different, regardless of who's paying him or what he's got in his hand? Shouldn't the McDonald's management have made an exception? Shouldn't Mazza Gallerie be as free and easy in the holiday season as any other shopping center, high prices or no?