It may now seem obvious that the many traditions, customs and associations which have come from many lands, even many faiths, and which mark Christmas, would never have been possible were it not for many different women stretching back to the ancient past, who all shared the title of Mrs. Claus.
In that mysterious story revealed on the pages of the red velvet volume with gold clasps, The Secret History of Mrs. Claus, the last two entries are a startling reminder that such women have lived in our own time, in our own country.
Even in recent years, it was yet again a Mrs. Claus who not only helped keep the holiday season a tradition, but expanded, organized, structured and yes, even monetized it, providing a business-like impetus which propelled Christmas into the live-action multi-media event which it has become in the 21st Century.
Behind it all was still the old motive to give to the forgotten.
In fact, nobody was more directly responsible for the evolution of Santa Claus in the early 20th century American Popular Culture than was Mrs. Claus. And she didn’t mind people knowing about it either. In fact, while she was at it, that Mrs. Claus turned herself into the new globally-familiar icon known as, well, Mrs. Claus. Her name was Carolyn Frost and she came from the town of Hollidaysburg, Pennyslvania.
Yes, Hollidaysburg is a real place.
She was also a self-described “can-do,” “do-it-myself” type, a slightly- controlling, occasionally-manipulative, highly-emotional, often-fretful, frequently-suspicious, extremely-organized, open-hearted, generously-impulsed, scrimping-and-saving. creative visionary without whom there would be no Christmas as we know it today.
Opening The Secret History of Mrs. Claus also seems to help finally close the book on one of the coldest cold cases in Hollidaysburg history.
The year was 1893, when the second of the three daughters of the late Mr. Harvey T. Frost, founder and owner of the thriving Frost Bakeries and his wife Marsha had been inexplicably abducted with sudden force from a quiet Hollidaysburg street and, it was long assumed, met with a terrible end.
If her eldest sister Griselda and youngest sister Bunny knew anything about her disappearance, they never said. Each year both women left Hollidaysburg in October as the sun began to set earlier and did not return until well into April, as the sun began to linger longer. They said they were “wintering” out of town but the sister never said where they went. Peculiar sisters they were.
The Frost Bakeries was a family enterprise. Harvey T. Frost had made it a success but after his death, his wife Marsha made it thrive.
Marsha Frost kept the books – and was a keen accountant. She counted every egg and every brick of butter by the inch when it was delivered. She knew how many bags of sugar and flour she had and how many she needed. She was training Carolyn on keeping the books, but Carolyn was always distracted.
With one ear she listened, and with one eye she watched, but truth be told Carolyn was more passionate about concocting new ideas for cookies. She was even more of natural at getting people to buy the new cookies, topped with colorful sprinkles and such, given catchy names and always, tasting uniquely delicious. Sisters Griselda and Bunny, always laughing together, did most of the hard work baking just as she instructed them to.
But Carolyn had to keep an eye on them – or else there was bakery mayhem. Carolyn had to keep an eye and an ear out for everything.
So she believed.
Carolyn was loquacious if not universally popular. It was one thing to skate so perfectly on Bake Lake, which was located just near the Frost Bakeries, which were just near the Frost home, but when she glided out onto the ice, she couldn’t seem to help but showboat. She loved nothing more than skating, Still, she was generous to a fault.
If anyone cared to skate as well as her, she took all the time necessary to show them how.
And the open secret in town was her rounds of “volunteering” on Saturday evenings at the local old folks home and orphanage.
It was a secret because Marsha Frost would have had a fit had she known what her daughter was doing.
After working all week running the baking of bread, cakes and cookies, Carolyn gathered whatever was fresh enough, went out on her bicycle into the night air and delivered the baked goods to those in town otherwise forgotten, the elderly and the parentless. Since the baked goods were so good, however, there often weren’t any “extra” by Saturday night. She couldn’t very well not bring at least cookies – they were counting on her Saturday night visit.
At first, Carolyn had her sisters do extra baking on Saturday afternoons but very quickly their mother noticed that the supplies were lower on Monday morning than she had left them. So Carolyn began to hang signs in the window of the Frost Bakeries: “We Use Brown’s Eggs!” “Only Kane’s Sugar Used Here!” “Pure Golden’s Butter Baked In!” and “Good Wheatley’s Wheat Goes into Our Goods!”
And just as she had hoped, her free advertising for the local egg, sugar, butter and flour distributors helped their businesses boom, making Mr. Brown, Mr. Kane, Mr. Golden and Mr. Wheatley all but eager to secretly deliver some extra amounts of their goods to her on Saturday mornings.
Carolyn was especially welcome during the Holiday Season when she created a new Christmas cookie that never failed to prove even more popular than the one she concocted the year before. The smell of her freshly-baked cookies preceding her, the entire town knew when Carolyn was biking her deliveries – the very intoxicating scent of them wafted in and out of homes and up through the night sky. She even did this on Christmas Eve, especially concerned that, at the very least, the old folks and the kiddies had a cookie for the holiday the next morning.
And that’s when she suddenly disappeared. Christmas Eve, 1893.
A handwritten recipe for “winter winkie” cookies pasted in the second to last chapter of the mysterious Secret History of Mrs. Claus, however, matched the recipe of the same-named sweet sold at the Frost Bakeries, currently in the Hollidaysburg Library archives. Early forensic studies indicate it to be in the long-missing girl’s handwriting. Alongside it,in the secret history, the story of a so-named Carolyn Claus continues.
This Carolyn had been biking freshly-baked cookies down a side street, the scent rising to the heavens when a young, prematurely graying man on the roof of a nearby house stopped in his tracks and called and waved down to her. She was annoyed. She had a schedule to keep and kept biking. And a few hours further, he appeared again on some rooftops – and again called down to her. She knew enough about foolish young men trying to distract her from the business at hand.
This Carolyn did as she intended, delivering her cookies to the old folks home and then the orphanage. Only when she stepped out of the orphanage, standing and waiting for her on the steps was this equally persistent young man. His name was Euell.
On the spot, he begged her for help. Could she keep baking these cookies so he could help distribute them to many more children? Of course she could, Carolyn said, snapping her fingers. She could make dozens, hundreds, thousands of them, just like that.
Where he lived, he told her, there was a special kitchen with special ovens that would allow her to make even hundreds of thousands – and even faster. And beside it – there was a lake for skating.
Skating and giving her cookies to children were enough to convince her to say yes, but before Carolyn could ask the particulars of when and where to fit her busy schedule, he embraced her and they rose (her bike included) into the sky and onto the orphanage roof and down into his sleigh, then up and away into the sky.
And while it took some time for this Carolyn to adjust to the idea that this man she quickly came to love would someday soon become Santa Claus, she had no hesitation in embracing her future identity as Mrs. Claus. In fact, her making the most efficient Jangle, (one of Katie Claus‘s leprechauns – uh, Elves, that is) her very own administrative aide-de-camp, rather ticked off her future mother-in-law.
Still in all, Euell was soon having to deliver the tin drums and horns, the train sets and dolls, the fire trucks and tennis sets that children had come to expect by the early 20th century. And Carolyn Claus was a natural at marketing. She knew what raw supplies they had the most of in any given year at the North Pole and concocted the sort of toy that could be manufactured from them and made it especially appealing that particular year. It was Carolyn Claus who very efficiently and quite accidentally created the Toy of the Year, having control not just of the supply but also manipulating slightly, the demand. And with Jangle directing the Elves in making more of the toy of the year at the factory, children who expected it from their parent (who bought it at the department stores) would always receive one on Christmas.
Carolyn did this by returning to lower earth and. without initially revealing her identity, carried the irresistible prototype of the Toy of the Year into all the big stores and convinced Mr. Wanamaker, Mr. Schwarz, Mr. Macy, Mr. Gimbel and so many more big men of the big stores to stock it for the coming season.
When they expressed their doubts about being able to sel so many of one type of toy in time for Christmas, Carolyn suggested they just start selling s a bit earlier – like the day after Thanksgiving.
And they did.
And they made such a tidy profit that they began to look forward to First Shopping Day, as she called it, because the sales they made starting on that and day up until Christmas Eve made up for any profit losses throughout the rest of the entire year.
And sure enough, they looked forward to her visit each year before Christmas, this mysterious woman with hair going white, always with a new example of the Toy of the Year tucked under her arm.
They even renamed Carolyn’s First Shopping Day as Black Friday.
And then came the Christmas of 1929.
The Great Depression had left most parents around the world unable to buy any toy, let alone the Toy of the Year. The big men at the big stores were worried.
What if they spent their profits making the Toy of the Year – and nobody bought them? In the great rule book of Christmas, of course, was one that could never be bent or broken: “If a parent could not buy a toy for a child, then Santa Claus must bring one.”
With the whole season of giving in jeopardy, Carolyn returned to the big men at the big stores who knew she never steered them wrong. They couldn’t possibly order the great quantities of the Toy of the Year they told her firmly and finally; fathers and mothers couldn’t possibly buy that many in the Depression.
As she was leaving the stores, crushed and disappointed, Carolyn couldn’t help but notice the big posters in the hallway that had been printed to advertise Black Friday to shoppers, but wouldn’t be seen that year. And there on every single one of them was Euell her husband smiling down at her with his red suit and white beard. And outside, when she passed a magazine stand, she noticed pictures of Euell smiling at her from advertisements at the back of magazines. Instead of heading north to go home, in a snap Carolyn directed the deer to take the sleigh south to Atlanta.
And there she met with the head of Coca Cola. He was using Euell (for free!) to sell their delicious soda. She was there, now, as Santa Claus’s marketing representative to announce that she was very happy to see her husband in their advertisements, but beginning that very year she would need a licensing fee from them. Or they couldn’t use his trademark image.
And she went to every other company that used Santa Claus to sell their products and made them sign a licensing fee agreement. And while she was at it, she made agreements with egg, butter, flour and sugar companies because their delicious products would all be needed as ingredients for that year’s new… Holiday Cookie of the Year!
And she didn’t stop until she had visited all the ornament-makers of lower earth, extracting a promise to make annual donations to her “charity” because she would be sure to announce an annual Ornament of the Year!
And the revenues that Carolyn Claus brought into the North Pole allowed them all to make even more toys than usual – to ensure that Santa would be able to deliver them to the children of the Great Depression and thus never abandon his promise.
And she didn’t stop. Over the next ten years, Carolyn managed to get the Confederation of Department Store Moguls, the League of Cookie Recipe Writers, and the International Ornament Association up to the North Pole for a big preview show of the season, getting them excited about selling – so she could always ensure that each child got a toy from the proceeds she would collect.
While they were up there, Carolyn Frost Claus also decided to open a North Pole Gift Shop where they had the chance to be the first among those of lower earth to purchase all sorts of collectible type items depicting not just Santa Claus but Mrs. Claus too. Having them sell the items in lower earth would help her even more to get her job done.
Carolyn had learned more than she realized about business from her mother Marsha Frost.
According to the Secret History of Mrs. Claus, some people at the North Pole even began to say that Carolyn Claus had saved Christmas.
Nonsense, she said, returning to the baking kitchen to concoct something new each season, she had only brought it into the 20th century.
It sure seemed that this Carolyn Claus had figured out how to practically keep Christmas running.
She hadn’t planned on what happened right before Christmas in 1941, however, but having found herself and the entire North Pole suddenly shut down for four years starting in 1914, she knew from the rule book exactly what it meant…
“When there was no peace on earth, there was no Christmas.”
Just when she was planning on reviving it as the events of 1945 unfolded, however, her son Jack, an aeronautical engineer, was home for the holiday.
He hadn’t realized he’d been followed back there by his former co-pilot, a Texan from the small town of Rising Star who always wore boots.
There was still to be told the story of Peru’s Maria Claus and the Candy Cane, Ethiopia’s Bella Claus and the Silver Bells and France’s Lulu Claus and the Naughty & Nice List.
But Suzy Quinones Schmidt was an entirely different sort of Christmas story.
THE CHARACTERS AND STORYLINE OF THIS SERIES ARE COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL