Mrs. Claus is the wife of Santa Claus. Unlike Santa Claus, however, she does not have a counterpart in folklore or mythology, but was the creation of American authors. She was popularized by poet Katharine Lee Bates in Bates’ poem, “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” (1889). The character has since appeared in story, film, television and other media.
The gift-giving bishop St. Nicholas was never portrayed as having a wife, and only when he was transformed, via Sinterklaas, into the more secular Santa Claus in the early 19th century did a wife appear.
The wife of Santa Claus is first mentioned in the short story “A Christmas Legend” (1849), by James Rees, a Philadelphia-based Christian missionary. In the story, an old man and woman, both carrying a bundle on the back, are given shelter in a home on Christmas Eve as weary travelers. The next morning, the children of the house find an abundance of gifts for them, and the couple is revealed to be not “old Santa Claus and his wife”, but the hosts’ long-lost elder daughter and her husband in disguise.
Mrs. Santa Claus is mentioned by name in the pages of the Yale Literary Magazine in 1851, where the student author (whose name is given only as “A. B.”) writes of the appearance of Santa Claus at a Christmas party:
[I]n bounded that jolly, fat and funny old elf, Santa Claus. His array was indescribably fantastic. He seemed to have done his best; and we should think, had Mrs. Santa Claus to help him.
An account of a Christmas musicale at the State Lunatic Asylum in Utica, New York in 1854 included an appearance by Mrs. Santa Claus, with baby in arms, who danced to a holiday song.
A passing references to Mrs. Santa Claus was made in an essay in Harper’s Magazine in 1862; and in the comic novel The Metropolites (1864) by Robert St. Clar, she appears in a woman’s dream, wearing “Hessian high boots, a dozen of short, red petticoats, an old, large, straw bonnet” and bringing the woman a wide selection of finery to wear.
A woman who may or may not be Mrs. Santa Claus appeared in the children’s book Lill in Santa Claus Land and Other Stories by Ellis Towne, Sophie May and Ella Farman, published in Boston in 1878. In the story, little Lill describes her imaginary visit to Santa’s office (not in the Arctic, incidentally):
“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.
“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.’”
Later, Lill’s sister Effie ponders the tale:
Effie sank back in the chair to think. She wished Lill had found out how many black marks she had, and whether that lady was Mrs. Santa Claus—and had, in fact, obtained more accurate information about many things.
Much as in The Metropolites, Mrs. Santa Claus appears in a dream of the author E. C. Gardner in his article “A Hickory Back-Log” in Good Housekeeping magazine (1887), with an even more detailed description of her dress:
She was dressed for traveling and for cold weather. Her hood was large and round and red but not smooth, — it was corrugated; that is to say, it consisted of a series of rolls nearly as large as my arm, passing over her head sidewise, growing smaller toward the back until they terminated in a big button that was embellished with a knot of green ribbon. Its general appearance was not unlike that of the familiar, pictorial beehive except that the rolls were not arranged spirally. The broad, white ruffle of her lace cap projected several inches beyond the front of the hood and waved back and forth like the single leaves of a great white poppy, as she nodded emphatically in her discourse.
Her outer garment was a bright colored plaid worsted cloak reaching to within about six inches of the floor. Its size was most voluminous, but its fashion was extremely simple. It had a wide yoke across the shoulders, into which the broad plain breadths were gathered; and it was fastened at the throat by a huge ornamented brass hook and eye, from which hung a short chain of round twisted links. Her right arm protruded through a vertical slit at the side of the cloak and she held in her hand a sheet of paper covered with figures. The left arm on which she carried a large basket or bag — I couldn’t tell which — was hidden by the ample folds of the garment. Her countenance was keen and nervous, but benignant.
Santa Claus’ wife made her most active appearance yet by Katherine Lee Bates in her poem “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” (1889). “Goody” is short for “Goodwife”, i.e., “Mrs.”
In Bates’ poem, Mrs. Claus wheedles a Christmas Eve sleigh-ride from a reluctant Santa in recompense for tending their toy and bonbon laden Christmas trees, their Thanksgiving turkeys, and their “rainbow chickens” that lay Easter eggs. Once away, Mrs. Claus steadies the reindeer while Santa goes about his work descending chimneys to deliver gifts. She begs Santa to permit her to descend a chimney. Santa grudgingly grants her request and she descends a chimney to mend a poor child’s tattered stocking and to fill it with gifts. Once the task is completed, the Clauses return to their Arctic home. At the end of the poem, Mrs. Claus remarks that she is the “gladdest of the glad” because she has had her “own sweet will”.
Since 1889, Mrs. Claus has been generally depicted in media as a fairly heavy-set, kindly, white-haired elderly female baking cookies somewhere in the background of the Santa Claus mythos. She sometimes assists in toy production, and oversees Santa’s elves. She is sometimes called Mother Christmas, and Mary Christmas has been suggested as her maiden name.
Her reappearance in popular media in the 1960s began with the children’s book How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas, by Phyllis McGinley. Today, Mrs. Claus is commonly seen in cartoons, on greeting cards, in knick-knacks such as Christmas tree ornaments, dolls, and salt and pepper shakers, in storybooks, in seasonal school plays and pageants, in parades, in department store “Santa Lands” as a character adjacent to the throned Santa Claus, in television programs, and live action and animated films that deal with Christmas and the world of Santa Claus. Her personality tends to be fairly consistent; she is usually seen as a calm, kind, and patient woman, often in contrast to Santa himself, who can be prone to acting too exuberant. In some modern adaptations, Mrs. Claus is shown with a younger, even sexier appearance.
— Source: Wikipedia: Mrs. Claus”