Last week a friend from work brought in his family's Swedish Almond Kringler which is amazingly similar to my family’s Almond Danish. We swapped stories about how we grew up believing these pastries to be an old family secret recipe, when actually our mom’s borrowed them from Better Homes and Gardens to serve each Christmas morning.
There is, however, one tradition unique to our family. In fact, I have yet to find anyone else at all familiar with the children’s story “How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas,” (There is a modern novel with the same name, but it is not our tale).
Each Christmas Eve since before I was born, my mother sat down with her daughters and read the story she clipped from the center of a late 1950’s December McCall’s. The original copy is tattered and some of the colorful illustrations are torn, but it remains intact. Several years ago our mom presented each of us girls with our own color copy. They are probably the only copies that survive anywhere, which is a shame.
The story begins on Christmas Eve as Santa is preparing for his long travels delivering toys across the world. Mrs. Claus tells Santa that she thinks he should shake things up a little that year, maybe give kids things some impractical gifts rather than the ones they expect. Santa scoffs at her crazy idea and decides to take a nap. He sternly warns his wife not to wake him. Santa oversleeps, and she abides by his wishes and doesn’t wake him. Instead Mrs. Claus takes Santa’s place in the sleigh and delivers the gifts.
When Mrs. Claus returns to the North Pole she tells Santa that she’s given ribbons to the tom boys and skates to the scientists, etc. Santa is livid, and tells her she has ruined Christmas. Then across the world comes the sounds of (not the crying of children who got presents they don’t want, but) the laughter of children thanking Santa for giving them presents they were afraid to ask for. That part always chokes me up. Afterwards there is a big feast with the elves.
The lessons I learned from that story continue to guide me today. First, Mrs. Claus was a bit of a hell raiser and an early feminist. Second, Santa got a little cocky and needed to be taken down a notch. Third, when we conform to defined roles we lose out on opportunities for growth (this one took me about 20 years to figure out). Finally, Christmas morning is the time to feast. And in my family we feast on Danish Pastries.