If you hear “clomp, clomp, clomp” on the rooftop this Christmas, it might not be Santa’s reindeer. Instead, it might be a dozen milkcows owned by a chubby farmer named Gonopolis.
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“Mr. Gonopolis And His 12 Holsteins — A Christmas Story,” is a book about when Santa Claus gets sick, and an old farmer and his dozen prize milk cows pitch in and deliver the presents. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixon are replaced with black and white spotted Norwegian cows with names like Bessie, Bossie, Gertrude, Jessie, Sally, Mary, Karma, Clara, Hulda, Carrie, Oprah and Sigrid.
Written in vivid verse and lushly illustrated with full color illustrations, it has become a seasonal Christmas gift standard in Minnesota, where it was first published in 1985).
In this bovine version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the herd survives a series of misadventures including a 12-cow pileup on a roof, an encounter with a family’s attack dogfish and a rescue from near-drowning by a group of heroic barnflies. Mr. Gonopolis doesn’t get Santa’s instructions on how to deliver the Christmas gifts quite right — in fact, he really messes things up! But in the process he discovers the true meaning of Christmas, isn’t the Christmas gifts themselves, but the gift of caring.
Author and illustrator Uncle Hyggly (aka Charles Smith-Dewey) first wrote “Mr. Gonopolis And His 12 Holsteins” as a Christmas gift for his six nephews and nieces. Soon all their classmates wanted to get Mr. Gonopolis as a gift the next Christmas and it quickly developed a following. Hyggly now has four books and a cassette tape published under the pseudonym of “Uncle Hyggly” (which means “happy” in Norwegian).
A new Audio CD version of “Mr. Gonopolis And His 12 Holsteins,” is available, and makes a great Christmas gift idea, too! Like the cassette tape version from 20 years ago, it has Uncle Hyggly narrating to a folk/jazz score by composer and performer George Maurer. The original version was played on more than 50 radio stations coast-to-coast, and the duo has performed the story on stage in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The story’s gentle humor and strong midwestern values have inspired several elementary schools in Minnesota, Iowa and Annapolis, Maryland to base their Christmas pageants on it.