My nephew and I were in a store when he spied a fake Santa Claus who'd just finished his shift. It must have been a hard one because Santa was buying some booze.
"What if a little kid who was still a believer saw that?" asked my disgusted nephew. "I don't know who made up all these Christmas traditions to begin with, like flying reindeer, socks over the mantle, mistletoe and Santa Claus. Bah humbug."
I tried to explain some of these customs to my bitter nephew. "What you see today is the Hollywood version of the story, but there really was a Santa Claus. He was a crotchety old rancher whose real name was Klaus and he lived up near North Fork, Montana, a long time ago. Klaus had lived nearly all of his 70 years by himself. Never married, he was a miserable old loner, but once a year he did something quite out of character. Every year at Christmas he'd take a bag full of toys that he'd made himself down to the orphanage at Chinook where he'd been raised as a child.
“On one particular blustery Christmas Eve he pulled on his stocking cap, longjohns and red and white jacket and stepped into his black, five buckle overshoes. Then he hitched up his two mules, Rudolph and Prancer, and threw the bag of hand carved toys in his wagon for the trip to town.
“On his way to Chinook the weather turned bad. A blizzard was blowing in and it got so cold that the nose on Rudolph, the mule, turned red. Klaus knew he couldn't make it to town and he wasn't sure he could make it back home, so in the blinding snow he pulled down the next lane he came across. It was the road to the widow's place.
“The widow had been running the ranch by herself since her husband died ten years before. Like Klaus, the widow was a lonely old soul. So when Klaus knocked on her door that blustery Christmas Eve she thought that he was her early Christmas present. Just what she'd asked for too! She welcomed him inside and made a place for him by the fire. Although the icicles hanging from his white beard began to melt, Klaus never did. The widow fed Klaus a prime rib dinner and put a Bing Crosby record on the stereo to get him in the mood. She tried to get Klaus to take off his wet clothes but the best she could do was to get the bashful Klaus to take off his wet stockings and hang them from the mantle with care.
“Meanwhile, the storm had become so fierce that the snow drifts were now higher than the eaves of the house. The lonely widow and the lifelong bachelor were trapped inside. The widow was counting her lucky stars and putting on her best moves... as best as she could remember. She huddled up next to Klaus on the couch, leaned over and tried to sneak a kiss under her crude mistletoe decorations. Then she laid her hand on his knee and whispered in his ear, "Now's your chance big boy."
“Of course this scared Klaus nearly half to death. He flew up the chimney, his only avenue of escape, hopped in the wagon and virtually flew out of there, leaving his socks still pinned to the mantle. To lighten his load he threw the presents down all the chimneys in town and headed for the ranch. And he didn't leave his home till it was time to deliver the presents the following year. Even then he went half way around the world to avoid going by the widow's place.
“While all this was occurring some Norwegian dairymen were having a Christmas Eve party down at the Chinook Grange. By the time Klaus sped by they had all imbibed a little too much egg nog so their story got a little twisted. When the Norwegians got through repeating the events of that Christmas Eve the two mules had become eight reindeer, the wagon was a sleigh and Klaus was flying in the sky yelling "Ho, ho, ho." Actually he simply responding to the widow's overtures by saying, "No, no, no!"
"So you see," I told my nephew, "there really was a Santa Klaus."