“I Wonder Who Is Santa Claus” is a traditional children’s Christmas song that has been sung in my grandfather’s family since he was a boy.
His mother, Irma Henrie Elder, sang it every year to her grandchildren at her annual Christmas gathering.
Irma’s mother taught her this rare song when she was a girl. When she was older, Irma wrote down the lyrics to the song (right).
I haven’t been able to find the author of the song but I do know it was in circulation during the 1870s (see the end of the post).
Singing this song with my grandpa is one of my fondest Christmas memories.
Henrie Family Christmas Parties: The Birth of a Tradition
Irma was the 14th of 15 children born to William Henrie and Hannah Westenskow. The Henrie family moved from Ferron, Utah to Imbler, Oregon in 1903 with several of their married children. This is where Irma and her younger sister Marelda were born.
The Henrie family gathered every Christmas Eve to enjoy a Christmas program where “I Wonder Who Is Santa Claus” was always sung. This is what Irma wrote about their Christmas parties in Imbler:
We went to the one room church on Christmas Eve to the ward program and always at the last, we as kids would be thrilled to death to hear the jingle bells from Santa outside. They were real bells that they put on the horses when they were hitched to the big sleigh when there was snow. And we had lots of snow. Getting back to the Christmas party — Then old Santa came in with his pack and we all got red bags of nuts and candy. Then all my married sisters and families would come to our home, where my three brothers, two older sisters, Armida and Ethelinda, and Marelda and I lived. We always had a huge tree lighted with real red and green candles in little candle holders; then, we would have another program. We kids were then bedded down on the floors wall to wall. The grown ups would eat and stay up all night. Then on Christmas day, we all had a big dinner and through in time to go back to church by two o’clock fr the Children’s dance. We were taught by our parents to dance. I loved music and singing; my mother taught me lots of songs.
Irma’s sister Armida also wrote about the Henrie Christmas celebrations:
Father and the boys would go to the mountain and bring the big Christmas tree. The front room along with the tree was beautifully decorated. Mother and the girls would cook and prepare for days. One year 74 enjoyed Christmas together. At this time of year Father and Mother were their happiest — when all their children would come home. Father would have the bob-sled ready with two to four horses with sleigh bells on; together the families would go to the Christmas Eve program in the Church.”
Irma Henrie carried on her parents’ Christmas party tradition with her children and grandchildren each year. There was always a lot of singing and each family was asked to present something. When Grandpa was a child, he recited the poem “Jest ‘Fore Christmas.” As an adult, his family would choose one of the Christmas carols to sing together with Grandpa on the melody with some of the children and Grandma singing alto with the rest.
I attended one of Grandma Irma’s Christmas parties when I was a baby. I have this four generation photo of my brother, myself, my father, my grandfather, and Grandma Irma taken there:
Although I don’t remember my great-grandmother Irma, I feel close to her at Christmas as I think about how much she loved singing Christmas. We have three of her homemade Christmas ornaments to remember her by:
Creating Sheet Music For the Song
Two years ago I created a book about Grandpa’s ancestors to give my family for Christmas. In the process of making the book, I rediscovered the “I Wonder Who is Santa Claus song.” Several years before, Grandpa Elder sang the song and Grandma Elder figured out the notes and wrote them down. They copied it and distributed it to the family.
When I found this handwritten sheet music in my book of remembrance, I used NoteFlight.com to create new sheet music including both the lyrics and notes. I added this PDF to FamilySearch.org and then brought it with me to Grandpa’s house when I gave him the book.
My parents, sister, aunt, and some cousins were there too. We played the song on the piano and sang with Grandpa. There were tears in my aunt’s eyes as we sang. My Grandpa’s brother later told me, “this song was always sung by Mother Irma, and never without tears.” I won’t ever forget that moment singing “I Wonder Who is Santa Claus” with my dear Grandpa! He passed away a few months later.
This Christmas I decided to get out the song and sing it with my own children so I can carry on the tradition. My children love Santa Claus right now (who doesn’t?!) so it prompted some delightful conversations. My six year old later wrote me a little note that said, “Huow is Santa reel?” He wondered how Santa Claus can get from China to Arizona to San Diego all in one night. He must have been listening to the line, “He travels all around the world in just one single night.”
Who Wrote The Song?
I tried to find out more about the song, but was surprised to find only seven results on google containing the phrase “I Wonder Who is Santa Claus,” and three of them were the documents I added to FamilySearch. One of the other results was “Pacific Coast Third Reader,” published by A.L. Bancroft of San Francisco in 1874 and digitized by google. One of the lessons in the poetry section is titled “Santa Claus” and includes a little picture and the song lyrics.
Unfortunately the Pacific Coast Third Reader doesn’t list the author of the poem, so I’m asking you – do you know who wrote “I Wonder Who Is Santa Claus?” Do you have any Christmas songbooks from the 1870s that might include the song and the author? Have you ever heard of this song?
I Wonder Who is Santa Claus
I wonder who is Santa Claus
And from what land he comes
And where he gets so many toys,
And such good sugar plums
From his cold home in ice bound land
Where reindeer swiftly fly
He travels all around the world
In just one single night.
He wears a coat, a cap of fur
At least that’s what they say,
And he has winkling twinkling eyes
With beard so long and grey
He down the chimney softly sweeps
Nor makes the slightest sound
Brings whips to all bad boys and girls
To good ones books and toys.
One Christmas eve the moon shone bright
And all around was still.
We watched to see old Santa come
And all our stockings fill.
He came and filled our stockings up,
We didn’t’ even hear
The merry tinkling of his bells
That sound so soft and clear.
Now Santa Claus was living
When Grandma was young like me
And now he must be getting old,
So old perhaps he’ll die
But what would children do without
That kind and dear old friend
Dear Santa Claus, we hope you live
‘Till time it’s self will end!