Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

As Christmas approaches, Santa Claus readies himself to deliver presents to children all around the world. Below, you will find a picture of Santa preparing for his flight, courtesy of the December 23, 1879 edition of Harper’s Young People:

Sketch of Santa Claus in his workshop preparing to start delivering presents on the day before Christmas Eve - from December 23, 1879, edition of Harper's Young People.
“Santa Claus at Home – Ready to Start.” From the December 23, 1879, edition of “Harper’s Young People.”

Consulting Maud Lindsay to Learn About Santa Claus

Santa Claus is ubiquitous in American culture. His contemporary image owes much to Coca-Cola’s advertising in the 1930s. For today’s post, however, we turn to an earlier description of Mr. Claus, courtesy of a poem by Maud McKnight Lindsay from her 1913 collection,”A Story Garden For Little Children.” We turn to her brief story, “Santa Claus: A Wonder Story For Little Children” to glean an understanding of who Santa Claus is.

How Does Santa Claus Travel?

Ms. Lindsay informed us that Santa “rides in a sleigh drawn by tiny reindeer with bells on their harnesses.” This is in line with my prior understanding. I reported on a recent Rudolph sighting here on site.

How Does Santa Claus Dress?

According to Ms. Lindsay, Santa wears fur. All fur.

Santa Claus dresses in fur from his head to his heels. His leggings are fur, his coat is fur, and he wears a fur cap pulled down over his ears, for the winds of the winter are icy cold.

Maud Lindsay on Santa Claus’s attire

Ms. Lindsay’s description has logic, but I can see why contemporary depictions of Santa Claus moved away from emphasizing clothing made out of beloved woodland creatures. Interestingly, Ms. Lindsay makes no reference to the color of Santa’s fur clothing.

What Does Santa Claus’s Face Look Like?

Ms. Lindsay describes Santa Claus’s face in detail. Santa’s beard is “white as the snow,” while “his cheeks are as red as apples…” Ms. Lindsay goes further, telling us that Santa’s “eyes are as bright as the twinkling stars that look from the sky to see him ride.”

Santa’s cheeks likely owe their color from being outdoors in the winter, something that we learned is healthy in my recent article discussing “The Secret Garden.” I never saw a description of Santa’s eyes before, so that passage by Ms. Lindsay was insightful. It would have been nice if we could learn what color Santa’s eyes are, but I suppose it suffices to know that they are bright.

How Old is Santa Claus?

Ms. Lindsay tells us only that “Santa Claus is old, old as the hills…” While one could take this as description as figurative, I suppose she may be speaking literally, knowing all that we know about Mr. Claus.

How Strong is Santa Claus?

Santa is very strong, “as strong as a giant,” according to Ms. Lindsay. Notably, Ms. Lindsay never makes a suggestion regarding Santa’s weight. Santa appears to be heavy in many other depictions, such as the one we used at the top of the article. Ms. Lindsay finds it sufficient to say that he is as strong as a giant.

Lindsay explains why it is necessary for Santa to be “as strong as a giant”:

[O]n his back he carries a pack, and the pack is full of toys. He has dolls and drums, and balls and tops, wagons and sleds, tea sets with blue roses painted on them, and horns with red and white stripes; and all of them are for little children.

Maud Lindsay describing Santa Claus’s cargo

(I am intrigued by the “tea sets with blue roses painted on them…” That sounds very aesthetic. Do you suppose that Santa gives Christmas presents to emus? I think that The New Leaf Journal’s own Emu Café could use some of those tea sets. But as I am wont to do, I digress.)

How Stealthy is Santa Claus?

While Santa may be as strong as a giant, he appears to be stealthier than a ninja. Or so I am left to believe after reading Ms. Lindsay’s account of a little boy who tried to catch Santa in the gift-giving act:

“[O]nce upon a time there was a little boy who did not want to go to bed on the night before Christmas. ‘I shall sit up and see Santa Claus,’ he said. He hung his stocking by the mantel, and sat in his mother’s big rocking chair and waited, and watched, and waited; but all that he saw was a little gray mouse, though he stayed awake till everybody but his mother was in bed, and he could not keep his eyes open another minute. The last thing he saw as he went to sleep was the stocking hanging just where he had put it, and there was nothing in it; but—do you believe it?—when he waked up the next morning it was full of goodies from tip to toe; and right in front of the hearth was a wagon with red wheels! “Oh, oh! Santa Claus has been here,” said the little boy; and he clapped his hands, for he was happy as could be.”

Maud Lindsay recounting the story of one boy who tried to see Santa Claus’s visit
Picture of the boy trying to stay awake to see Santa Claus from “A Story Garden for Little Children”

Ms. Lindsay explains that “if [Santa] hears so much as a laugh or a whisper in the house he stays outside till all is quiet.” We do however learn from Ms. Lindsay that after giving gifts, “[Santa] rides for joy as he rides away.” While it is impossible to catch Santa in the gift-giving act, I suppose that it is an open question whether one can catch his laughter after he begins riding away.

How Good is Santa Claus at Choosing Presents?

Many people find the process of giving gifts to be stressful. Maybe the intended recipient already has the gift. Perhaps the intended recipient would not like the gift at all. What might the intended recipient read into the gift? These are just a small selection of fears that the most self-conscious gift-givers may have.

Santa, however, has no such gift-giving concerns.

Ms. Lindsay informs us that not only does Santa “fill [children’s] stockings with good things and give them beautiful gifts,” he also “knows just what the children want, every one of them…” Santa never hesitates, but instead has a sort of preternatural intuition about what each individual child will want for Christmas. It is a shame that Santa’s gift-giving ability is not in accord with the regular course of things, for he might otherwise have advice for those who fret and fret again about what gifts to give friends and family.

Merry Christmas Parting Thoughts

Ms. Lindsay’s account of Santa Claus is but one of countless accounts. Similar to the vast majority of accounts, Ms. Lindsay depicts an older man happily spreading Christmas cheer to children all around the world. I suppose the details are less important than that.

Merry Christmas to all our New Leaf Journal readers.