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By Jackie Nickel, 12-20-2006
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Rudolph, you know the elves, by their jobs if not by their names, and of course you know Santa Claus. But behind every good man like Santa, there’s a wonderful, devoted, hardworking woman, and at the North Pole that woman is Mrs. Claus, a beautiful lady about whom little has been written. Until now, that is.
We were lucky enough to run into some cousins of Mrs. Claus while in Canton, the heart of Baltimore’s early German settlement, a couple weeks ago. The Foertshbecks and Foehrkolbs, the Hombergs and Hofferberts, the Klausmeiers and Krannebitters, the Wilhelms and Winterlings – they all knew Kay Claus’s family going way back to the Black Forest of Germany where she was born. Although everyone calls her Kay, Mrs. Claus’s real name is Kunigunda, a good old German name. Kunigunda Weinerschnitzel.
Kay’s family owned a lumberyard in Bavaria and when her mother died of pneumonia at an early age, Kay took over the task of raising her 11 brothers and sisters and helping run the family business as well. Tragically, one early December day, her Papa was killed in a timbering accident and Kay was left all alone to care for her siblings. There was very little to celebrate that Christmas Eve.
After the children were tucked into their beds, Kay sat down next to the tall fir tree decorated with fruit, nuts, and paper garland and began to weep. Just a young woman herself, she missed her Mama and Papa and had no idea how she would be able to support a family. She heard a swoosh as Santa’s sleigh landed on the roof and hid behind the tree as handsome, young Santa slid down the chimney. Kay watched as he delivered more presents than ever before, scattering them all around the tree until he came to the place she was hiding.
“Kay,” Santa said peering through the branches. “I know what a struggle you are having. I will help you care for the little ones. Each year I will bring enough coats and clothes and mittens – and toys too – for the whole family. And for you, there will be special things too. It’s the least I can do for someone so good and pure of heart.”
All year long, Santa looked forward to his Christmas visit with Kay and she no longer hid, but sat down with him to enjoy the milk and homemade gingerbread cookies she had prepared. As anyone could see, there was a gleam in their eyes and a spark between them. At last, one year, when Kay’s brothers and sisters were almost all grown up, Santa asked for Kay’s hand in marriage.
“Next year, Kay, I would like for you to go back with me to the North Pole and be my wife,” Santa expressed on bended knee. “You are the most beautiful person I have ever known and I have fallen in love with you.”
Kay’s cheeks turned extra rosy and her eyes welled with tears as she accepted the beautiful red ruby ring Santa presented in a velvet box. “Oh, Santa, of course I want to marry you. But what about the children?”
“The younger ones can come with us,” Santa replied. “They can learn from the elves how to make toys or help with the reindeer and sleigh. I love you all and want you with me always.”
“Next year,” said Kay. “I need time to prepare.” A woman needs time, you know.
So for the next 12 months, Kay and her family and friends prepared, packing up things she would need in the North Pole. Although she wore her ruby ring proudly, some didn’t believe it was really from Santa. Some just didn’t believe in anything at all. But Kay believed with all her heart that it was the goodness in the world coming through Santa’s love that was calling her to the North Pole. And on the following Christmas Eve, she waited with her younger brothers and sisters for Santa’s final visit.
Santa, of course, had to make the trip to Kay’s house the final stop of the night. He needed an empty sleigh to be able to carry his bride-to-be and her siblings to their new home. And to be honest, he was a bit nervous, having been a bachelor all his life. Asking someone to take on the duties and name of Mrs. Santa Claus was a lot to request of a young woman.
And Kay was nervous too, uprooting her family and moving to a strange and faraway land. But she was in love and she knew her job would be to help spread love and joy and Christmas spirit throughout the world. What more could anyone hope for?
It was a foggy night and Santa was running a bit late with his deliveries. He was a bit sooty too, having gotten stuck in a few damp chimneys. But when he arrived at Kay’s house, all the soot and fog magically disappeared and the stars shone brightly, illuminating the winter sky. Kay and her family said goodbye to their house and loaded their things into the sleigh as snowflakes fell gently around them. Santa helped Kay into the front seat beside him, tucked her in with a warm coverlet and knew this was his partner for life.
As they dashed away into the cold, clear night, Kay smiled as she waved goodbye to her old life and the town below. The next day she and Santa were wed in a big North Pole ceremony and celebration with all the elves and reindeer joining in. And now every year, on the day after Christmas, Santa and Kay Claus take a sleigh ride to mark their wedding anniversary. They fly very high so no one ever sees them, but checking on Kay’s family still in the Black Forest, and also on those whose descendants have moved to America. The Clauses pay special attention to Highlandtown and Canton, to Essex and Middle River and Perry Hall and Parkville and Rosedale and even White Marsh where a lot of new families now live. They check up on all of us, in fact, each and every one – because we’re all one big family you know.
Well, that’s the story of how Kunigunda Weinerschnitzel became Mrs. Santa Claus that I learned while talking to folks in East Baltimore. Kay and Santa are continuing their mission of spreading Christmas spirit all year long while living happily ever after with the reindeer, elves and some of Kay’s nieces and nephews – little Weinerschnitzels – at the North Pole. They all send their love, and so do I. Merry Christmas!