December 24, 2016
I recently learned some unexpected things about Santa Claus. First of all, he played the violin. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. Lots of famous people have played the violin. Albert Einstein, Casanova, Paul Klee, Thomas Jefferson, and Benito Mussolini all played the violin, so why not Santa Claus.
I also learned that Santa didn’t come from the North Pole. He was born and raised in the Bronx. Not only that—his real name wasn’t Santa Claus. It was Isidore Finkelstein.
At age six, Isidore started violin lessons with Mr. Legato, his elementary school music teacher, and soon everyone was talking about him. Izzy, as he was then called, was a pudgy little kid, and perhaps it was the excessive weight of his bow arm that made people swoon over his luscious tone.
Before long, Izzy had learned everything violin teachers in New York City could offer, and he was sent to Russia to study with the famous violin pedagogue, Leopold Auer. Auer, upon hearing Izzy, immediately recognized that the teenager—now almost grown and somewhat overweight from constantly eating KitKats—was a brilliant concert violinist. “Dot fellow got three “T”s,” Auer explained in broken English to the young man’s concerned parents. “He got talent, tone, and technique.”
Soon, Auer arranged for Izzy’s very first concert tour in the far reaches of Siberia. Waldemar P. Strumbleknauf, who managed the tour, took a hard look at Izzy, shook his head, and said, also in broken English, “You mast lose vate.”
Izzy furrowed his brow. “What’s vate?”
“Vate is vat you gotta lose, maybe op to feefty pounds.”
“Oh. You mean weight? No way, Sergei. I’m not giving up my KitKats.”
Strumbleknauf shrugged his shoulders. “Hokeydokey. Vee make special beeg red suit for you. Good to spot you in snow if reindeer get lost.”
“Da. Only way to travel in Siberian snow is by reindeer—eight of them.”
“Gee whiz. This is so exciting, Mr. Strumbleknauf. I’m going to name the reindeer after Professor Auer’s best students: Jascha, Toscha, Mischa, Sascha, Efrem, Nathan, Oscar, and Eddy Brown.”
“Nyet,” said Strumbleknauf. “They already got names: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen.”
So Izzy started his concert tour—first in Omsk, then in Tomsk, Minsk, and Pinsk before meeting up with the reindeer in Siberia. The Siberian people had no money for concert tickets so they showered Izzy with presents after every performance. The further north he traveled, the more weighed down with those presents became his reindeer sled. Finally, Izzy was obliged to hand them out to the locals when he first entered a new town in order to make room for new ones. Because of his generosity, word spread that he was a saint, and people began to call him Santa.
The last concert on the tour was the furthest north possible, at the North Pole, and here something unexpected happened. A beautiful and exotic-looking woman named Tanya came backstage after Izzy’s concert, looked him soulfully in the eyes, and said, “That was the most memorable concert I’ve ever heard, and in addition, you look just like my sixth husband.”
“How many have you had?” the astonished Izzy asked.
“Five,” she replied.
So Izzy and Tanya got married, but not before the following conversation took place with the local priest:
“I hear you’re not Christian, Izzy.”
“That’s right, Father. I’m a practicing Jew.”
“I know. I know. Sometimes it drives me crazy listening to you practice three, four, even five hours a day.”
The wedding ceremony was presided over by two of the North Pole’s most distinguished religious leaders, Father O’Malley and Rabbi Titlebaum.
Beforehand, the rabbi took Izzy aside. “What kind of person has only one name, and a cockamamie name like Santa at that? My great-uncle Claus just passed away, may he rest in peace. Claus was a mensch and not only that. He played the fiddle just like you. I’m not taking no for an answer. From now on your name is Santa Claus.”
Santa Claus not only fell head over heels in love with Tanya, but with the North Pole itself. He vowed to stay there as long as he could continue to play concerts, get paid with presents, and send them by reindeer to the good and the needy wherever they might be. Those acts of music-making and generosity were the most cherished gifts he himself would ever receive in this world.
Except for one other: Santa’s secret hope was that when the reindeer returned home devoid of gifts, his sled would now be filled with KitKats.
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