How Mrs. Claus got her groove back

(And learned to love the holiday season, again)

Illustration By Rex Norman

Mrs. Claus wrinkled her brow and moved the cursor to the “Start” and then “Turn Off Computer” selections. She thought better of it and hit the “Cancel” button when the window came up.

“Consarn it,” she muttered under her breath, “they play and they play and they politicize until all the fun goes out of it like a snowman melts into the ground. Hypocrites!”

She launched the database program, typed in her husband’s super-secret password, B7itzen, scrolled down the names to the F’s, then the Fa’s, then the Fal’s. When she reached the name of her at-this-moment-greatest irritation, she highlighted a cell and replaced “How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)” with “coal.” She sighed, knowing she would eventually feel remorse about her meanness and repair the insult.

“We’ll see who’s been naughty,” she said, blowing a wisp of white hair off her eye and surfing over to Google. “'War on Christmas,’ indeed! ‘War on diversity’ is more like it.” She’d already read many of the news accounts—stories touched off by a book published by Fox News anchor John Gibson, The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought. It seemed everyone from the Washington Post to the Salt Lake Tribune to the U.K.'s Guardian was commenting on it.

On this Sunday, two weeks before Dec. 25, there were 79 stories on Google News detailing the assault by Christians who wanted their savior’s birthday associated with the most secular, most sin-ridden holiday of the year: Christmas!

“Let’s see,” she said, ticking off the sins on her chubby, stubby fingers, “greed, gluttony, envy, sloth, pride, lust, wrath— not a lot of that greed stuff going on during Easter. Pah! The fruitcakes are attacking and attempting boycotts of Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Don’t these busybodies know that retail stores are not churches and that everybody shops at these stores? ‘Remember the reason for the season,’ indeed. Scoundrels. Bullies. How dare they take our favorite day of the year, and turn it into … into … a joke, that’s what it is.

“Where were these religious ignoramuses when their spiritual ancestors, the Puritans, outlawed the celebration of Christmas between 1659 and 1681? I’ll bet a five-shilling fine would settle their hash. This is our holiday, too, and we get our life from its secular celebration.”

Huffily, she logged off, powered down and headed into the stainless steel appliance-filled kitchen, where, rattling dishes and banging pots, she prepared her husband’s favorite meal: lamb chops, green beans, rice and a Pillsbury crescent roll.

She was setting the dining room table when the kitchen’s door to the basement swung open. Momentarily, sounds of the toy factory below the house clanked and clattered, hissed and whistled. A puff of steam boiled into the kitchen behind the toymaker, but the rattles and vapor dissipated as the door clicked shut.

Nick was peeping into the oven when Mrs. Claus puffed through the swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room.

“Something smells wonderful, Mrs. Claus,” he said, rubbing the spot below his right ribs where his gall bladder burned with pre-holiday stress and anticipation of animal fat. Nick was wearing his blue pinstriped overalls, practically his uniform in the months between September and January. He had a streak of black grease down his outrageous white beard, and his hardhat, which he’d hung on a peg near the door, had massed his more-than-shoulder-length hair into a style that could only be described as “helmet head.”

Illustration By Rex Norman

“If you ask me, something stinks,” said Mrs. Claus as she slammed closed one of the natural toned maple cabinets, rummaging through another, eventually finding the salt and pepper shakers. She set the spices down, grabbed a set of silicon potholders, nudged past her husband, opened the oven and pulled out the bubbling chops, backing through the swinging door and returning empty-handed for the shakers. “Have you seen the news?”

“Oh, Missus, when are you going realize, all that Internet stuff is just malarkey?” He paused to wash his hands. “A right-wing ideologue writes a book, gets a couple of his talking-head friends to sign on, and the next thing you know, they’re covering the non-controversy in the Post. You give it power with your attention.”

He followed her raucously swaying checkered skirt into the dining room. Although the dining room table was large enough to seat the entire staff, including all the factory elves, Mr. and Mrs. Claus usually sat at the end of the table nearest the kitchen. The two spots were appointed like something out of Martha Stewart magazine, with woven-cloth placemats, matching napkins and blue octagonal plates. Nick poured his wife a glass of cab as she served him two chops from the baking dish.

“Did I tell you Maximilian caught his beard in the hair inserter?” he asked when the servingware stopped clinking, maladroitly attempting to move the subject away from the bee that had infested Missus’ bonnet. “Machine had pulled him about halfway in and inserted his beard into 83 Barbies’ heads.” He spooned a dollop of mint sauce onto his chops. “Eighty-three gray-haired Barbie heads—reminded me of the French Revolution.”

“Not that you were around, Father Christmas.” Mrs. Claus was obviously unwilling to have her attention diverted from the subject that was burning in her heart.

“Maybe I didn’t wear red, but I don’t think I need to remind you that I was around.”

“I’ll tell you what really burns my beets,” she said, studiously ignoring the mild rebuke, her brown eyes more intent on a bean she was pushing around her plate. “It’s the despicable lies these false advocates tell—that Christmas is traditionally a religious holiday; that Jesus Christ was born on Dec. 25; that the Yule log, evergreen tree, or kissing under the mistletoe are Christian traditions. I dare any of them to see what the Prophet Jeremiah had to say about decorating holiday trees.”

She leapt up from the table and went to the office, returning with a large, white and gold family Bible and a sheaf of computer printouts. Sitting down, she elbowed aside her place setting with its untasted supper. “Here it is, Chapter 10, verses 2-4, ‘Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen’ … blah, blah … blah, blah, blah … ‘For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers that it move not.’

Nick appreciatively paused, fork suspended between plate and mouth, blue eyes a-twinkling. “My dear, you are preaching to the choir,” he said with a characteristic chuckle that threatened to start the bowlful of jelly that was his midsection to jiggling.

“Christmas isn’t a season for piety! Since timekeeping began, the month of December has been to celebrate the winter solstice, a time of fun, of plenty, of Misrule—they’d finished the harvest, they butchered the animals when the cold would preserve the meat, the grapes were fermenting, the poor threatened the rich out of a taste of their best food!

“Why, Christians didn’t even decide to give Jesus a wintertime birthday until the First Council of Nicaea in 325, and we know they only did it to undermine Mithras Sol Invictus, and you don’t even have to take my word for it,” she said, shuffling through the pile of printouts. “Here, read what Increase Mather had to say about it.”

“Dear, as I recall, you didn’t at all like the good reverend when the Puritans were arguing against the celebration of Christmas because it was a pagan holiday.”

Illustration By Rex Norman

Mrs. Claus’ round face developed a red tinge. Her ever-loving man considered telling her that if she were a balloon, she’d likely pop, but he thought better of it.

“That’s because they were against having fun! How is that any different than these political hacks arguing that businesses should be forced to highlight a religious observance because “Christ is the reason for the season"? Jesus’ birthday, if it were in December, shouldn’t be forced into dens of profiteering like Wal-Mart or Neiman Marcus. It’s revisionist history is what it is.”

Mr. Claus daubed off his lips and beard with the linen napkin. He cleared his throat, set down his fork and picked up his pipe, as though about to make a grave pronouncement.

“My dear, can’t you see that the argument you are making—'These people don’t know the history of Christmas, so they aren’t qualified to decide what Christmas should be'—is the very argument they’re making? It’s just as wrong to force your irreligious beliefs on them as it is for them to try to force their religious beliefs on you. It doesn’t seem reasonable to suggest that by honoring Hanukkah, Kwanza, the winter solstice, Ramadan, Thanksgiving, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day or my birthday by saying “happy holidays” or “season’s greetings” you are dishonoring Christmas. Nor does it seem reasonable to say that by saying “merry Christmas” that they are dishonoring these other holidays. Personally, I’m going to stand with the real Christmas traditions of inclusion and the well-off giving to the less-well-off.”

Just then, the factory sounds emanated from the kitchen and a toad-like elf dressed in a filthy, olive-green uniform with a name-patch designating him as “Pete” limped into the dining room, stopped at Mr. Claus’ side and whispered into his ear. The hypertensive peddler put down his pipe, stood and formally pecked his wife on the cheek. “Thanks for dinner, Missus. It was delicious, but duty calls. It seems the deflanger is boiling over again.”

“OK, dear, I’ll leave the hall light on.”

After cleaning up the table, doing the dishes and putting her feet up for a moment in front of Fox TV’s Family Guy, Mrs. Claus made her way upstairs. She changed into her ivory-colored nightgown, applied Oil of Olay, brushed her teeth and made ready for bed.

“Why, the nerve of that man,” she thought, idly tracing patterns in the frost on the windowpane that overlooked the front yard. The moonlight reflected off the crusted snow in a straight line that only wavered with the undulations of the landscape underneath. The moon completed the punctuation like the period completes an exclamation point. The yard was bordered with a pointed picket fence. The industrial-sized mailbox was the only real landmark—no road, no tracks, no clue as to how the mail actually arrived into the box. There were no trees beyond the outpost as far as the eye could see—featureless and soft, like the moments in between dreams. The sky, though, was ablaze with light, the stars and planets each a small fiery dot, not enough moisture in the air to support a twinkle.

She threw over the burgundy quilted comforter on the goose-down mattress and slid between chilly navy blue cotton sheets.

As she closed her eyes and resolved to fall asleep, many images tumbled through her mind: snatches of carols from the years before “Silent Night,” memories of wassailers and tunic-garbed Romans. She thought about her husband’s image before “A Visit from St. Nick” and before Coca-Cola got ahold of him. She remembered the homes decorated in mistletoe and holly and thought about the ignorance that led to the belief that “Xmas” was disrespectful of a religious figure. She thought about the days when Christmas was not a corporate holiday symbolized by the spending of money, when it was more about the consumption of food than resources, when Christmas was a celebration of the bounty of the mother and the turning of the seasons—of life.

“Maybe Mr. Claus was right,” she thought, bolting upright in the bed. “Maybe the only true things about the celebration of Christmas are that traditions change, and those who celebrate forget where the traditions really come from. Maybe Christmas is still a celebration of life.”

She nestled down into the growing warm spot, smiling to herself and adjusting her kerchief. She began planning her baking for the season, and she quite literally had visions of sugar plums dancing in her head when she remembered the one thing that remained to do before bed.

She slid her feet into fuzzy slippers and tiptoed down the hall stairs, careful not to make the stairs creak. She took a moment to look into the kitchen, just in case her love had come in for a late-night snack, then made her way to the den. She saw that, as usual, he’d left the computer turned on.

Logging onto her husband’s database, she found her way back to Jerry Falwell’s field and changed the entry from “coal” to The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum.