Mrs. Santa Claus: A Strong and Supportive Woman for All Seasons
Mrs. Santa Claus has been a part of both the oral and written Santa Claus story as long as Santa himself, but in some centuries she has been a silent partner.
She has been pictured as a smiling, plump, good natured, stay- at- home and back ground wife offering cookies and moral support to Santa Claus as he fulfills his toy delivering responsibilities around the world. Through the years besides answering to the name of Mrs. Santa Claus, she has also answered to other names including Amelia, Jessica, Mary and Anna.
Mrs. Santa Claus hasn’t always been content to remain an anonymous, silent and often overlooked part of Christmas. Sometimes her transformation and voice have changed so gradually that it takes many Christmas seasons to recognize the change. Often, Mrs. Santa Claus magically changes her personality to reflect her society and her society often reinvents her every Christmas season. Fragments of her history and personality appear in every Christmas season.
Mrs. Santa Claus Stepped Out of Santa’s Shadow
One of Mrs. Santa’s first appearances in literature occurred in an 1849 short story by James Rees, a Christian missionary living in Philadelphia. His story, A Christmas Legend, took place on Christmas Eve when Robert Paxson, and his wife Gertrude offered shelter totwo weary travelers bent under the weight of the packs they carried on their backs. Robert and Gertrude were sad because they had no Christmas presents for their children. They couldn’t pay their rent and they expected the landlord to come and evict them from their home on Christmas Day. John, their ten year old son fetched some shabby wooden chairs for the guests and their daughter, seven year old Jane, hung up her stocking hoping that Santa Claus would visit even their humble home.
After enjoying a good meal, good conversation and a warm fire, the travelers and the Paxson family went to bed. The next morning when the children Jane and John, woke up, they found Jane’s full stocking and gifts for John as well.
To their amazement, Robert and Gertrude discovered that the couple was not merely “old Santa Claus and his wife”, but Amelia, their oldest daughter and her husband William Sandford who had eloped on Christmas Eve seven years before. After surviving a dissipated youth, William matured and turned out to be an English heir. The family was reunited and their fortunes vastly improved.
The Paxson’s daughter Amelia and her husband William Sandford were Santa and Mrs. Santa in this story. James Rees depicted Mrs. Santa/ Amelia as kind, generous, and forgiving and as the traditional wife and helpmate, the ideal woman at the time.
American magazines have briefly noted Mrs. Santa. In 1851, The Yale Literary Magazine featured a story by student author A.B. who described Santa Claus attending a Christmas party. A.B. wrote that Santa Claus, that “jolly, fat and funny old elf,” had done his best to be fantastically dressed “and we should think, had Mrs. Santa Claus to help him.”
An 1854 story in The Opalabout a Christmas musicale at the State Lunatic Asylum in Utica, New York, featured Mrs. Santa Claus appearing at a Christmas party. After Mrs. Santa Claus had smilingly greeted the group, a lady handed her a baby and Mrs. Santa waltzed around the room with the baby in her arms. An 1862 Editor’s Arm Chair essay in Harper’s Magazinecompared a rich lady who provides a Christmas tree to poor children to Mrs. Santa Claus.
Katherine Lee Bates Revealed Goody Santa Claus’ Feminist Side
Author and poet Katherine Lee Bates transformed Mrs. Santa Claus into a woman with a mind and personality of her own.
Most famous for her poem America the Beautiful, Katherine Lee Bates in her 1889 poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride, introduced a much more assertive Mrs. Santa Claus than had appeared in previous literature. Goody Santa Claus, short for Goodwife which means Mrs., used her wifely wiles to convince Santa Claus to take her along on his Christmas Eve sleigh ride to pay her back for tending the Christmas trees, the Thanksgiving turkeys, and the chickens that laid Easter eggs. She asked him,
“Why should you have all the glory of the joyous Christmas story,
And poor little Goody Santa Claus have nothing but the work?”
Goody Santa Claus painted a pretty word picture of herself and Santa snuggling cozily the sleigh like “two loving snowballs in fuzzy Arctic furs,” with sleigh bells jingling in the background. Then she emphasized the reality that Santa continued to get fat from her cooking and lack of exercise while he sent her out to take care of the Christmas trees. She pointed out to him that she performed all of the necessary tasks to get him and his toys ready for Christmas Eve. Santa received all of the credit for her hard work and she didn’t want to stay home working as the silent partner any longer. As Goody Santa Claus put it: “Home to womankind is suited? Nonsense, Goodman!”
Santa Claus relented and took Goody Santa Claus along, but while Santa Claus climbed up and down chimneys delivering gifts, he left her waiting in the sleigh steadying the reindeer. Growing tired of sitting in the sleigh, Goody Santa Claus reminded Santa Claus that although she had worn her snowflake wedding bonnet for the first time since their wedding, it had not lost any of its magical properties.
Finally convincing Goodman Santa to allow her to climb down a chimney, Goody Santa Claus used an icicle for a needle and threaded it with the last pale moonbeam to darn an orphan’s Christmas stocking. After she finished darning the stocking, Goody Santa filled it with gifts.
When their shared tasks were finished, Santa and Mrs. Santa headed home. Goody Santa Claus told Goodman Santa Claus that she considered herself “the gladdest of the glad” because “her own sweet will” has prevailed.
Katharine Lee Bates who imagined the Goody Santa Claus version of Mrs. Santa Claus infused much of her own personality into Goody Santa Claus, remarkably so, because Katharine Lee Bates lived in a Victorian world that wasn’t comfortable with a strong women like Goody Claus. Most men in 1889 considered women who were as capable as men threats or devoid of “womanly” qualities. Women didn’t win the right to vote until 1919. Katharine Lee Bates imagined and wrote her anti-war and women’s issues poems far ahead of her time and her depiction of Mrs. Santa Claus as a strong woman with determination and power is timeless.
Goody Santa Claus didn’t guide the sleigh down a straight but slippery road into the 21st century; instead, she and her sleight hit speed bumps and took a few detours during her journey. Since 1889, Mrs. Santa Claus has been pictured in literature and movies as a plump, kind, white haired, cookie baking wife. Sometimes she helped Santa make toys and supervised his elves, but she didn’t serve on the front lines of Christmas. The vision of Katharine Lee Bates of Goody Santa Claus and her partnership with Santa in making Christmas possible slowly filtered into Christmas customs. In the following decades, Mrs. Santa Claus and her husband became part of a Christmas culture of books, movies, and television programs
Mrs. Santa Claus Again Changes with the Times
Another book, this time a book published in the 1960s, reaffirmed the role of Mrs. Santa Claus for new generations of children and adults. Phyllis McGinley in her book How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas, once again gave Mrs. Santa Claus commanding role in her husband’s life and his impact on Christmas.
In the 1970 movie Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Mrs. Claus assumed the role of a teacher named Jessica who first met Santa Claus, known as Kris Kringle, as a young man trying to illegally deliver toys to a town controlled by a dictator. Jessica helped Santa and they fell in love and got married in the nearby forest. In 1974, Mrs. Santa played a larger role in The Year Without a Santa Claus when she worked to change Santa’s mind about staying home for Christmas that year because he felt that no one appreciated or believed in him any longer. She finally proved to him that the Christmas spirit still existed in the world and he needed to continue Christmas.
Mrs. Santa Claus showed a strong feminist facet of her personality again in a 1996 television musical called Mrs. Santa Claus. Angela Lansbury played Mrs. Santa Claus who in 1910 no longer felt the magic of being married to Santa Claus and decided to take charge of her own life.
Tired of feeling neglected and lonely at the remote North Pole and weary of living in Santa’s shadow, Mrs. Claus decided to change her life. She devised an alternative delivery route for Christmas Eve and set out with the sleigh and reindeer to test it out. A rogue wind plopped the sleigh in the middle of Manhattan’s multi-cultural Lower East side, and Cupid, one of the reindeer, hurt his leg. Mrs. Claus had to stay where they landed until Cupid’s leg healed, and they stayed at the home of a Jewish family who didn’t celebrate Christmas.
Mrs. Santa ultimately led a suffragist parade to win women the vote and organized the children in a toy factory to fight for child labor laws. Back at the North Pole, Santa’s head elf, Arvo, comforted a remorseful Santa. Eventually, Mrs. Santa returned to the North Pole and a welcoming, more sensitive and aware Santa.
Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2, and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause from 2002 featured a strong, independent Mrs. Claus who knew her own mind and successfully dealt with being Mrs. Claus, motherhood, and an eccentric husband.
In her movie as well as her literary career, Mrs. Claus is increasingly liberated and her own modern person, but her personality rests on a foundation of serenity, kindness and patience. She often serves as a steadying influence to the more excitable Santa Claus
Christmas present is still dominated by classic male figures including Santa Claus, the male reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, and the other colorful and beloved Christmas cast of characters. Using her wit, intelligence, and determination, not to mention her domestic skills, Mrs. Santa Claus has managed to carve and maintain a female Christmas space for herself on her own terms.
Claus, Elsbeth. Mrs. Claus Explains It All: (At Last) Answers to the Questions Real Kids Ask! Source Books, Jabberwocky, 2008.
McGinley, Phyllis. How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas. Lippincott, 1963.
Wharton, Kate. What Does Mrs. Claus Do? Tricycle Press, 2008.