People wondering whether to expect coal or treats and presents in their stockings Christmas morning may find comfort in the fact that Mrs. Claus not only slapped Santa’s name on the naughty list one year but also made it first just to get him to toe the line.

Mrs. Claus revealed as much during an interview Thursday as she and Santa prepared for their final stints of the season, today and Saturday, in Santa’s Workshop in the Doerflinger building in downtown La Crosse.

His violation: spilling milk and cookie crumbs on the computer keyboard, which he doesn’t know how to use very well anyway.

Although the La Crosse couple, who use the handles of Dan and Bonnie Felten in their alternate universe, usually don’t use that “n” word around their visitors, they are prepared to address the issue if a parent brings it up.

“The lessons after being naughty are don’t lie, tell the truth and apologize,” said Mrs. Claus, who also finds humor in the fact that her maiden name is Claus. “It was funny when people would call me that at first, because I would think, ‘That’s my mom.’”

“Kids think it is extremely funny that Santa was on his own list,” Santa said.

The Feltens — uh, Clauses — are natives of Sheboygan, Wis., who have lived in La Crosse since 1975. Santa, 73, and the Missus, 72, are retired from their jobs at the then-Franciscan Skemp Healthcare.

(By the way, Mrs. Claus naughtily prevaricated at first, claiming she was 55 — a coal-worthy trick if there ever was one, although she quickly fessed up to the fib.)

This is the first time they have set up shop in La Crosse — a fine workshop with a top-notch set that Santa and the couple’s son Matt Felten crafted with a workbench, winter scenes where people can stick their heads for photos and a host of Christmas accoutrements.

Their schtick has become popular in a small shop next to the Duluth Trading Co., which has curried favor to make the “nice” list by giving the Clauses an employee discount.

The red-cheeked couple acknowledged taking advantage of the discount, and Santa confided that he was wearing the Wisconsin chain’s highly touted Buck Naked underwear — featuring red Santa Clauses dancing on a green background.

The Clauses have hailed from the North Pole seasonally for 16 years — largely in malls in Las Vegas and in Texas. Those were 48-day gigs, 12 hours a day, they said, with only Thanksgiving Day off.

“At our age, that’s not good for your health,” Santa said, expressing delight that “we are still able to do what we love.”

They travel in a white vehicle proclaiming that it’s Santa’s, which often prompts people to stop them for photos. Each carries a supply of cards saying, “I caught you being good!” they pass out during such stops or, for instance, during their appearance in Oktoberfest parades, but they don’t play the “naughty” card.

This season’s engagement, which they do merely for donations from visitors, is a happy one, with Downtown Mainstreet Inc. providing a stipend for the set and businesses welcoming them warmly. Fayze’s Restaurant and Bakery down the street is providing cookies to hand out to children.

The small cookie size came at the request of Carly Felten, the Clauses’ oldest of seven grandchildren and their most reliable elf. The bigger cookies were leaving a bit of a mess, and the clean-up took time away from Carly’s role as greeter, coat hanger and, most of all, relaxer of nerves of any children hesitating to meet Santa.

“They are so cute, teeny gingerbread men and trees,” said Carly, a graduate of La Crescent High School who attends the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

No need to worry about a scary Santa in this workshop, as these Clauses pursue a gentle approach.

Santa usually is out feeding reindeer when people drop by, in case a child might be a tad shy. Mrs. Claus invites children to sit on her lap, often reading them a book to relax them.

Shortly thereafter, Santa peeks through the back window — not only giving camera- and smartphone-wielding parents a great photo opp but also to check for Elf Carly’s all-clear sign for him to appear.

His approach is gentle, with Mrs. Claus noting, “We’re not into loud ho-ho-hoes.”

“The greatest gift one could have is playing Santa,” Santa said. “Santa is a safe figure to confide in, for both kids and adults. We hear some painful things.”

The couple say their jobs — his as a clinical social worker doing ER crisis intervention and hers helping secure housing for older folks in 10 communities in three states — gave them the ability to sooth anguished souls.

“They give quality time to each family,” Carly said.

“Our occupations help us give joy to people in pain,” Santa said. “If you could see from our perspective, there is so much joy in their eyes.”

He recalled the request of a child in another city, who said, “I want Daddy home for Christmas, but you know — he’s got to stop breaking the door and hurting Mommy.”

“No kid should have to think about that,” said Mrs. Claus, whose talent as a ventriloquist also gives them inroads to entertaining people in other seasons.

The job supplies more mirth than sadness, in part because kids say the darndest things.

Santa recalled returning from a break at a mall, when a lad greeted him with the loud salutation, “Did you PEE, Santa?” The hundreds of people waiting in line broke rank with raucous laughter.

Another time, a child in the distance turned to his parents and hollered, “HEY! There’s Santa, and he’s with his grandma!”

The Feltens, uh, Clauses, are getting rave reviews in La Crosse, with their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/laxdowntownsanta/ featuring five-star reviews with accolades such as, “My children, ages 7 (almost 8), 4 and 6 months, absolutely fell in love with Mr. and Mrs. Claus. This may be THE best and most memorable Santa experience ever, and I am so thrilled to have been able to capture these moments for my children. Thank you Santa and Mrs. Claus for visiting La Crosse and bringing so much Christmas magic with you! You are treasures of the 2016 Holiday Season.”

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Mike Tighe is the Tribune newsroom's senior citizen. That said, he don't get no respect from the cub reporters as he goes about his duly-appointed rounds on the health, religion and whatever-else-lands-in-his-inbox beats. Call him at 608-791-8446.

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