While you might be familiar with the famous image of Santa Claus on the cover of the January 3, 1863, issue of Harper’s Weekly, you might not be familiar with the image of Santa that appears inside that same issue. On page 13, a story titled “Santa Claus’s Ball; Or, A Plea for the Children” recounts a November-night party intended as a “dress-rehearsal for Christmas.”
While that sounds all well and quaint, the story gets really trippy really quickly: dolls that spy on sleeping children; a once-beautiful witch who may or may not have something going on the side with perhaps-not-so-saintly Saint Nick; Santa’s overfondness for “punch”…. This ain’t your children’s Christmas fairy tale! (Perhaps I should not have been surprised. Also on the page is a sinister-sounding story of “The Pirate Raphael Semmes.”)
Take a read for yourself:
“Santa Claus’s Ball; Or, A Plea for the Children”
Santa Claus had appointed this November night as a dress-rehearsal for Christmas. It was an occasion when not the Dolls only, but very many others, denizens of Toyland, were expected. All, in fact, who could make it convenient to attend felt it to be a duty to do so. In fact, the invitation was almost peremptory. Santa Claus expected to hear from his spies, the Old Dolls, full accounts of the conduct and behavior of his little friends the Children, in order that he might know who deserved his rich prizes, and who might merit the traditional “rod in the stocking” as the penalty of their misbehavior. He also expected to hear from the same reliable sources what all the mothers, sisters, aunts, and cousins were doing with reference to assisting him; and for this information he was accustomed to rely entirely upon the Dolls. They are a very intelligent race of little beings, if one did but know it, and they always sleep with at least one eye open. Consequently, when the Children have gone to bed, and the Dolls set in order in the nursery, and the hidden work is taken out, and the mysterious plans of the family talked over, the Dolls have the best possible chance to see and hear it all, and of course their sympathies are all interested in the Children, and all that concerns them.
Santa Claus was accustomed to hold this annual festival preparatory to Christmas, in order to know exactly what to do, and what to depend upon.
The gala was held in Santa’s favorite winter palace, an immense snow-cave in the side of Mount Hecla. Santa Claus found the climate to agree better with his health than a more southern situation, and likewise he found here, in this sequestered spot, the quiet and seclusion so necessary to the mystery in which he is accustomed to invest his good deeds.
The palace was all of a glow with warmth and light from numerous fires in huge fire-places, whose vent was none less than the great crater of Hecla himself. The cheerful blaze illuminated the glittering ceiling and sparkling walls, and mellowed the atmosphere to almost tropical geniality; while, to retrain the melting of snow and ice, which naturally would have ensued, and which would have greatly incommoded the guests, the palace was placed under a perpetual spell or charm by a certain witch. This witch when young had been a famous beauty, and a great favorite of the good saint, who was a gay bachelor in those days.
Of course she could not preside publicly at his entertainments; but it was more than surmised in Northern circles that his domestic ménage owed much to her occasional care. It was positively asserted that if she chose she could tell what has become of a certain Geyser, which had mysteriously disappeared of late, and there were not wanting dark hints that it had been placed in his kitchen by her agency, in order that he might enjoy a perpetual supply of hot water for his punch, of which it was feared he was becoming very fond.
It is certain that he has been known to lay his finger aside his jolly red nose, wink oracularly, and indulge in a silent inward laugh and chuckle when the subject has been broached to him. But it is not my business to pry into the domestic concerns of these excellent people, but to give an account of Santa Claus’s ball….
You can read the full article online here.