History Detective

Who is Mrs Claus?

Episode Summary

Ever wondered how Mrs Claus came in to the cultural zeitgeist?

Episode Notes

Ever wondered who Mrs Claus is? What does she do at the North Pole? And what even is her name?

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Theme music written and performed by Kelly Chase.

Episode Transcription

Hi, this is Kelly Chase and you are listening to History Detective, a podcast where I delve into the past to uncover the mysteries of history. Before I get started, I just wanted to let you know that I have just released a book called History, Her Story, Our Story, Inspirational Women Who Shaped Our World. You can find a link to buy the Kindle or paperback in the show notes. It would make a lovely Christmas gift for a history lover! 


Speaking of women in history and Christmas, today, I am going to explore one of the most famous unsung women of Christmas legend. I don’t normally like to define a woman by her famous husband, but it is a bit hard not to with this one, because her husband is one of the most famous chaps of all time. I am talking about the wife of the legendary, beloved Santa, Mrs Claus.


What I want to know, is when did she first appear, how much work does she do in the whole Christmas gift giving operation and how does she feel about her husband’s massive and perpetual job as a chimney hopping gift dropper. Does she carry the mental load of this entire operation? Let’s dive into the sources and see what we can find about this unsung heroine who barely has a consistent first name.


Although Santa Claus is a character based on a 4th century saint, called Saint Nicholas, the first time that there is reference to Santa having a wife is not until more than 1000 years later in an 1848 short story called “The Christmas Legend” by a writer called James Rees. In the story, two elderly strangers, who turn out to be Mr and Mrs Claus, seek shelter at a house on a long journey. After Mrs Claus asks some questions, they find out that one of their daughters had died. The next morning, they wake to find a house full of presents.


By 1878, in a kids book called Lill’s Travels in Santa Claus Land and Other Stories, Mrs Claus had picked up the administration work of the North Pole present distribution machine. She was in charge of keeping the naughty and nice list. Here is an extract from the book.


There was a lady sitting by a golden desk, writing in a large book, and Santa Claus was looking through a great telescope, and every once in a while he stopped and put his ear to a large speaking-tube. While I was resting he went on with his observations.


“Presently he said to the lady, ‘Put down a good mark for Sarah Buttermilk. I see she is trying to conquer her quick temper.’


“‘Two bad ones for Isaac Clappertongue; he’ll drive his mother to the insane asylum yet.’


“‘Bad ones all around for the Crossley children,—they quarrel too much.’


“‘A good one for Harry and Alice Pleasure, they are quick to mind.’


“‘And give Ruth Olive ten, for she is a peacemaker.’”


From here, Mrs Claus appears in Christmas pop culture in a variety of iterations. 

But the one thing she has never really nailed down is having a first name. In the 1970s film, Santa Claus is Coming to town, she was called Jessica and she was a school teacher, in a 1985 movie, she was Anya, by 2011 Margaret and in 2020 she was Ruth and some people claim that she was Holly, Mary or Carol. Maybe, all of these references are actually to different women and Santa has been married at least 7 times. This could also explain why every time she is depicted in pop culture, she looks completely different. 


Perhaps one of my favourite depictions of Mrs Claus is a poem published in an Adelaide newspaper in 1884 called Mrs Santa Claus Asserts Herself. The poem is written in the voice of Mrs Claus and she does acknowledge that she loves her husband the jolly old soul, but she goes on to list what a difficult life she has as his wife. She outlines how she worries about him, with his stout frame, getting stuck in chimneys and burned by the fires at the bottom and goes in to the bouts of bronchitis that she has had to nurse him through due to exposure to the cold on his sleigh. But more importantly, she explains all of the work that she does to make the toys.


While I, poor old crone, sit and cower alone.

Tight clasping the fingers I've worked to the bone?

With a nod and a blink he would lead you to think

He had dressed all the dolls ere a weasel could wink;

No; while he's in bed—to his shame be it said

It is I who am plying the needle and thread.

He goes shopping so grand through the length o

the land

But all matters of tastefulness fall to my hand.


Mrs Claus, whatever your name may be, Holly, Mary, Carol, Jessica, Anya, Margaret or Ruth. Please know that I see you and burden of the mental load that you bear during the festive season, while the jolly bearded bespectacled man takes all the credit.


Don’t forget to grab your copy of my new book History, Her Story, Our Story: Inspirational Women Who shaped Our World, there is a link in the show notes. This would make a marvellous stocking stuffer for any lover of history. 


If you want more Christmassy podcast goodness, there are 3 previous Christmas specials, Lunch of Christmas Past, Lady Santa and episode about Christmas Windows.


Merry Christmas to all! This Kelly Chase, on the Case.