Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Woman Behind the Man in the Red Suit

Mr. and Mrs. Claus, © 2005-2007 Susan Comish Gallery

I would first like to say, that in the course of trying to learn about the origins of Mrs. Claus, I have seen WAY TOO MANY "Deluxe ADULT Mrs. Claus" costumes. Is there an entire section of the population with some wierd fetish I don't know about? Is it really that sexy for a young woman to dress up as a naughty version of what is essentially an iconic, sweet-natured grandmother? Ladies, if you want to dress up all hardcore for the holidays, you don't have to spend $34.95 on a short red tutu and tiny white apron. Save some money. Buy a few yards of 3" thick ribbon at the craft store. Tie a bow around your ass. VOILA! A festive bedroom getup your man is perfectly happy with. Seriously. There's no need to go dragging Mrs. Claus into this.

There were differing reports as to the origins of Mrs. Claus. One account was called "I am Mrs. Claus hear me roar" written by Lisa Bondy for The McGill Tribune. Her assessment boiled down to: "The sad truth is she was created by Thomas Nash in the late 1860s, in a series of illustrations for Harper's magazine, and later embellished by Haddon Sundblom in his billboards for Coca-Cola." The Thomas Nash illustrations DO come up often when searching for Mrs. Claus, but another source was mentioned again and again.

"Mrs. Claus, Santa's wife, was first introduced to the world in 1889 in the book Goody Santa Claus On A Sleigh Ride by the poet Katherine Lee Bates. In this story, Mrs. Claus pleads with Santa to take her along on the annual Christmas Eve sleigh ride to deliver toys to all the good little boys and girls." This account was found at and is corroborated by myriad other online sources.

Bates is best known as the author of America the Beautiful and was apparently the first to feel it was important to put in print the idea of Santa having a wife. There was also a song released in 1956 by George Melachrino, "Mrs. Santa Claus," which helped establish Mrs. Claus and her role in the popular imagination. Today, I am pleased to say, we clearly have reached a point where Mrs. Claus is widely accepted. In spite of any fancy magical abilites he may have due to being the anthropomorphic embodiment of a major holiday, no one would begin to suggest the jolly fat man gets all that work done on his own.

The term goody, by the way, is an out of use "polite term of address for a woman of humble social standing." I looked up the poem and had to share it here. In this version of the story, Mrs. Claus is apparently responsible for tending trees that grow the toys and treats instead of them being built by elves. There are also references to turkeys for Thanksgiving and chickens that lay Easter eggs being her responsibility. So she's a very busy lady. All this makes her "acknowledgement" that stuffing stockings "takes brains" and that she's only fit to hold the reindeer pretty barbed and sarcastic. I'm kind of loving how saucy this version of Mrs. Claus is for a woman in 1889 (particularly considering the last line).

Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh-Ride

By Katharine Lee Bates, Published in 1889

Santa, must I tease in vain, dear? Let me go and hold the reindeer,
While you clamber down the chimneys. Don’t give me that sour smirk!
Why should you have all the glory of the joyous Christmas story,
And poor little Goody Santa Claus have nothing but the work?

It would be so very cozy, you and I, all round and rosy,
Looking like two loving snowballs in our fuzzy Artic furs,
Tucked in warm and snug together, whisking through the winter weather
Where the tinkle of the sleigh-bells is the only sound that stirs.

You just sit here and grow chubby off the goodies in my cubby
From December to December, till your white beard sweeps your knees;
For you must allow, my Goodman, that you’re but a lazy woodman
And rely on me to foster all our fruitful Christmas trees.

While your Saintship waxes holy, year by year, and roly-poly,
Blessed by all the lads and lassies in the limits of the land.
While your toes at home you’re toasting, then poor Goody must go posting
Out to plant and prune and garner, where our fir-tree forests stand.

Oh! But when the toil is sorest how I love our fir-tree forest.
Heart of light and heart of beauty in the Northland cold and dim,
All with gifts and candles laden to delight a boy or maiden,
And its dark-green branches ever murmuring the Christmas hymn.

Yet ask young Jack Frost, our neighbor, who but Goody has the labor,
Feeding roots with milk and honey that the bonbons may be sweet!
Who but Goody knows the reason why the playthings bloom in season
And the ripened toys and trinkets rattle gaily to her feet!

From the time the dollies budded, wiry-boned and saw-dust blooded,
With their waxen eyelids winking when the wind the tree-tops plied,
Have I rested for a minute, until now your pack has in it
All the bright, abundant harvest of the merry Christmastide?

Santa, wouldn’t it be pleasant to surprise me with a present?
And this ride behind the reindeer is the boon your Goody begs;
Think how hard my extra work is, tending the Thanksgiving turkeys
And our flocks of rainbow chickens – those that lay the Easter eggs.

Jump in quick then? That’s my bonny. Hey down derry! Nonny nonny!
While I tie your fur cap closer, I will kiss your ruddy chin.
I’m so pleased I fall to singing, just as sleigh bells take to ringing!
Are the cloud-spun lap robes ready? Tirra-lira! Tuck me in

Off across the starlight Norland, where no plant adorns the moorland
Save the ruby-berried holly and the frolic mistletoe!
Oh, but this is Christmas revel! Off across the frosted level
Where the reindeers’ hoofs strike sparkles from the crispy, crackling snow!

Now we pass through dusky portals to the drowsy land of mortals;
Snow-enfolded, silent cities stretch about us dim and far.
Oh! How sound the world is sleeping, midnight watch no shepherd keeping,
Though an angel-face shines gladly down from every golden star.

Here’s a roof. I’ll hold the reindeer. I suppose this weathervane, Dear,
Some one set here just on purpose for our team to fasten to.
There’s its gilded cock, - the gaby! – wants to crow and tell the baby
We are come. Be careful, Santa! Don’t get smothered in the flue.

Back so soon? No chimney-swallow dives but where his mate can follow.
Bend your cold ear, Sweetheart Santa, down to catch my whisper faint:
Would it be so very shocking if your Goody filled a stocking
Just for once? Oh, dear! Forgive me. Frowns do not become a Saint.

I will peep in at the skylights, where the moon sheds tender twilights
Equally down silken chambers and down attics bare and bleak.
Let me shower with hailstone candies these two dreaming boys – the dandies
In their frilled and fluted nighties, rosy cheek to rosy cheek.

So our sprightly reindeer clamber, with their fairy sleigh of amber,
On from roof to roof, the woven shades of night about us drawn.
On from roof to roof we twinkle, all the silver bells a-tinkle,
Till blooms in yonder blessed East the rose of Christmas dawn.

Now the pack is fairly rifled, and poor Santa’s well nigh stifled;
Yet you would not let your Goody fill a single baby sock;
Yes, I know the task takes brains, Dear. I can only hold the reindeer
And to see me climb down chimney – it would give your nerves a shock.

Santa, don’t pass by that urchin! Shake the pack, and deeply search in
All your pockets. There is always one toy more. I told you so.
Up again? Why, what’s the trouble? On your eyelash winks the bubble
Mortals call a tear, I fancy. Holes in stocking, heel and toe?

Goodman, though your speech is crusty now and then, there’s nothing rusty
In your heart. A child’s least sorrow makes your wet eyes glisten, too;
But I’ll mend that sock so neatly it shall hold your gifts completely.
Take the reins and let me show you what a woman’s wit can do.

Puff! I’m up again, my Deary, flushed a bit and somewhat weary,
With my wedding snow-flake bonnet worse for many a sooty knock;
But be glad you let me wheedle, since, an icicle for needle,
Threaded with the last pale moonbeam, I have darned the laddie’s sock.

Then I tucked a paint-box in it (‘twas no easy task to win it
From the artist of the Autumn leaves) and frost-fruits white and sweet,
With toys your pocket misses – oh! And kisses upon kisses
To cherish safe from evil paths the motherless small feet.

Chirrup! Chirrup! There’s a patter of soft footsteps and a clatter
Of child voices. Speed it, reindeer, up the sparkling Artic Hill!
Merry Christmas, little people! Joy-bells ring in every steeple,
And Goody’s gladdest of the glad. I’ve had my own sweet will.


  1. Marisa -- I LOVED that you researched this! And what a great poem. Listen to Mrs. C:

    "Let me show you what a woman's wit can do."

    Hahahaha! You go, girl!!

  2. Thanks! I thought it was a hoot. The image it creates of this bustling, cheery, won't-take-no-for-an-answer Mrs. Claus is pretty wonderful.