Our American Holidays - Christmas/On Santa Claus

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Brave old times those were. In the first half of the seventeenth century, we mean; before there was any such place as New York and Manhattan Island was occupied mostly by woods, and had a funny little Dutch town, known as New Amsterdam, sprouting out of the southern end of it. Those were the days of solid comfort, of mighty pipes, and unctuous doughnuts. Winter had not yet been so much affected by artificiality as he is now-a-days, and was contented to be what he is, not trying to pass himself off for Spring; and Christmas—well, it was Christmas. Do you know why? Because in those times Santa Claus used to live in a great old house in the midst of an evergreen forest, just back of the Hudson, and about half-way between New Amsterdam and Albany. A house built out of funny little Dutch bricks, with gables whose sides looked like stair-cases, and a roof of red tiles with more weathercocks and chimneys sticking out of it than you could count. Phew, how cold it was there! The wind roared and shouted around the house, and the snow fell steadily half the year, so that the summers never melted it away till winter came again. And Santa Claus thought that was the greatest pleasure in life: for he loved to have enormous fires in the great fire-places, and the colder it was, the bigger fires he would have, and the louder the winds roared around his chimney. There he sat and worked away all the year round, making dolls, and soldiers, and Noah’s arks, and witches, and every other sort of toy you can think of. When Christmas Eve came he’d harness up his reindeers, Dasher, and Prancer, and Vixen, and the rest of them, and wrap himself up in furs, and light his big pipe, and cram his sled full of the doll-babies and Noah’s arks, and all the other toys he’d been making, and off he’d go with a great shout and tremendous ringing of sleigh-bells. Before morning he’d be up and down every chimney in New Amsterdam, filling the stout grey yarn stockings with toys, and apples, and ginger-bread, laughing and chuckling so all the while, that the laughs and chuckles didn’t get out of the air for a week afterwards.

But the old house has gone to ruin, and Santa Claus doesn’t live there any longer. You see he married about forty years ago; his wife was a Grundy, daughter of old Mrs. Grundy, of Fifth Avenue, of whom you’ve all heard. She married him for his money, and couldn’t put up with his plain way of living and his careless jollity. He is such an easy-going, good natured old soul, that she manages him without any trouble. So the first thing she did was to make him change his name to St. Nicholas; then she made him give up his old house, and move into town; then she sent away the reindeers, for she didn't know what Ma would say to such an outlandish turn-out; then she threw away his pipe because it was vulgar, and the first Christmas Eve that he went off and stayed out all night she had hysterics, an declared she’d go home to her Ma, and get a divorce if he ever did such a thing again. She’d have put a stop to his giving away toys every year, too, only she thought it looked well, and as it was, she wouldn’t let him make them himself any more, but compelled him to spend enormous sums in bringing them from Paris, and Vienna, and Nuremberg.

So now Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, and lives in a brown stone house on Fifth Avenue, a great deal handsomer than he can afford, and keeps a carriage, not because he wants it, but because Mrs. Shoddy, next door, keeps one; and love,s not to be jolly himself and to make everybody else so, but to please his wife’s mother. He has to give an awful pull, what with his wife’s extravagance, and the high prices of Parisian and Viennese toys, to make both ends meet, although he does speculate in stocks, and is very lucky. Instead of looking forward to Christmas with pleasure, and thinking what a good time he will have, he pulls out his ledger, and groans, and wonders how on earth he’s going to make his presents this year, and thinks he would stop giving them entirely, only he’s so mortally afraid of his mother-in-law, and he knows what she’d say if he did. So he borrows money wherever he can, and sends over to Paris for fans, and opera-glasses, and bon-bon boxes, and jewelry, and when they come he sits down in his parlor and lets his wife tell him just what to do with them. So she takes out her list and runs over the names; she has all the rich people down, for she is a religious woman, and the Bible says "unto him that hath, it shall be given." This is the way she talks: "The little Crœuses must have some very elegant things, of course; their mother’s a horrid old cat, but Crœsus could help you very much in business. And there are the Centlivres; we must pick out something magnificent for them; they give a party Christmas night: of course the presents will be on exhibition, and I shall sing with shame if any one else’s are handsomer than ours." So she goes on, until all the rich people are disposed of. Then Santa Claus asks: "How about the Brinkers, my dear?" The Brinkers are great favorites of his. "Good gracious, dearest! How often have I told you, you mustn't manifest such an interest in those Brinkers? What would Ma say if she knew you associated with such common people!" "But, I'm Dutch myself, pet." "Of course you are, darling, but there's no need of letting every one know it!" St. Nicholas hardly dares to do it, but he finally suggests very meekly: "The poor children, my darling." "Bother the poor children, my dear!" They're a most affectionate couple, you know. Then St. Nicholas sighs and sighs, and sends for his messengers, and they all come in with long faces, and take off big packages to the Crœsuses and the Centlivres, and the rest of them. The messengers do their work entirely as a matter of business, so there isn't a sign of a laugh, nor a symptom of a chuckle in the air next day. The little Crœsuses first cry, because they haven't received more, and then fight over what they have; then they eat too much French candy, and get sick and cross, and the whole house is filled with their noise. So mamma has a headache; and papa longs for his office, and misses the tick-tick of the stock telegraph, and thinks what a confounded nuisance holidays are. That is what Christmas is like in good society.

But I must tell you a secret. Away up in the fourth-story of his grand house, where his wife never goes, St. Nicholas has a little workshop, and there he sits whenever he gets a chance, making the most wonderful dolls, and gorgeous soldiers, and miraculous jumping-jacks, and tin horns—such quantities of tin horns! Some one ought to speak to him about those tin horns. But after all they please the poor children, so we suppose it's all right. Now do you know what he does with these things? On Christmas Eve he gets his old sled down from the stable away up by the North Pole, and as soon as his wife is fast asleep, he puts on his old furs and gets out from under his shirts in his bureau drawer a Dutch pipe, three times as big as the one his wife threw away, and off he goes. He tumbles down all the poor people's chimneys, and fills up the stockings to overflowing, and plants gorgeous Christmas trees in all the Mission schools.

He has a glorious good time, and laughs and chuckles tremendously, except when, once in a while, he thinks of what would happen if his wife found him out.

So there's a little fun going on after all.

Do you know, if it were not for this performance of his, we should wish with all our heart that St. Nicholas were dead and buried. But we must say, we wish his wife would die, and that all the Grundy family would follow her good example, for between them they've spoiled a good many jolly people besides St. Nicholas.