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The Saga of Santa Claus is one which has seen constant growth. According to Barbara Hallman Kissinger, the first mention of Mrs. Claus was in a March 1881 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine. It was said that "little St. Nicholas made his appearance, sometimes accompanied by his good natured vrouw, Molly Grietje." Soon after, there were appearances in St. Nicholas magazine, December 1884 and December 1885. See: Christmas Past (Pelican Publishing Company, 2005).
Katherine Lee Bates – better known as the author of "America The Beautiful" – wrote a small Christmas poem titled Goody Santa Claus, A Sleigh Ride. The illustration from the right is from page 7 of the book (1889). The poem begins:
You can see the cover here. Also, You may download the entire zipped contents. Caution: The size is 4 MB. Barbara Hallman Kissinger writes that Goody Santa Claus was first published in the Wide Awake magazine in December 1888.
By the way, "Goody" was a common contraction of the day for "goodwife". It also strikes a remarkable similarity to the name of the Dutch ship which landed at present day New York in 1626: Goede Vrowe, which also means "goodwife." Goody Santa Claus contains no depictions of elves who helped Santa in his workshop, notwithstanding such assertions in other sources.
Other names that have been given include 'Jessica Mary,' 'Ma', 'Maya', 'Matha', 'Doloe', and 'Dolores.' For more information, see: Thumb Bandits.
Warren Hynes wrote a column published in the Staten Island Advance on December 24, 1998. He wrote, in part:
In the 1970s, the team of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass produced and directed several Christmas television specials featuring characters made of clay. These have become holiday classics, and two of them feature Mrs. Claus quite prominently.
The 1970 show "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" tells the story of how Santa Claus became the man he is today. In this story, a young redhead named Kris Kringle dons a red suit and tries to deliver toys and happiness to the children of Sombertown. But the dictator of this town, who is alternately called Burgher Meister and Meister Burgher, declares that there are no toys permitted in Sombertown.
When Kringle defies the rule, he wins over the children's schoolteacher, a woman named Jessica, who also has red hair to go with her Barbie doll-like physique. When Kris and his friends are imprisoned, Jessica realizes that the rules of Sombertown are wrong. She seeks out Mr. Warlock (also known as "Winter") who tells her that all he has left is some magic feed corn, which makes reindeer fly. She takes the corn and gives it to Kris' reindeer. The deer fly up to the prison's roof and rescue Kris and his friends.
Kringle and his crew flee Sombertown. Somewhere in the woods, Kris and Jessica are married. As the narrator, the late Fred Astaire, tells us, "A grove of pine trees was their cathedral," and evergreen trees are lit to add atmosphere. At this time, Kringle is told by his adopted mother that his real surname is Claus.
So the Claus entourage decides to set up camp in the North Pole, where a castle is built and the toy-making begins. Once the Burgher Meister (or Meister Burgher) is gone, Santa Claus is seen as a hero in Sombertown. In the final minutes of this show, Santa and Jessica are shown aging through the years. Both of them fill up rather quickly, losing every trace of their young physiques. And both husband and wife move swiftly from redheads to white-haired folks.
In 1974, Rankin and Bass gave us "The Year Without a Santa Claus." In this show, Mrs. Claus is both the star and the narrator. The late Shirley Booth gave Mrs. Claus her voice in this special.
"The Year Without a Santa Claus" is about the year in which Santa decides that (a) he is not feeling well enough to deliver toys, and (b) he doesn't think that anyone cares about him anymore. "I'm due for a holiday," Santa says (with Mickey Rooney as his voice).
Mrs. Claus immediately goes to work. Her first thought is to dress as Santa Claus herself. She does this, and breaks into song: "Anyone can be Santa/Why can't a lady like me?/I admit I'm underfed, but with a pillow from the bed/I could be Santa Claus."
Instead of choosing a disguise, Mrs. Claus calls her trusty elves, Jingle Bell and Jangle Bell. She asks them to go with the reindeer Vixen, and find an example of the Christmas spirit. She wants some goodwill, some proof that someone cares.
When Santa discovers that the reindeer and elves have gone on this trip, he realizes he must go "down there, into that cruel world" to find them. He takes Dasher the reindeer and flies away.
Somehow, the elves and Santa all end up in Southtown, U.S.A. Santa meets the young boy Ignatius Thistlewhite and his family, who show him that goodwill still exists on earth. The elves and reindeer end up in trouble, and are forced to prove to the mayor of this town that Santa exists by making it snow one day in Southtown. Santa, meanwhile, finds a sick Vixen and flies her back to the North Pole.
At this point, Mrs. Claus re-enters the picture. She begins intense negotiations with the weather czars of the world - Snow Miser (or Maiser) and Heat Miser - to make it snow one day in Southtown. It takes the additional help of the Miser brothers' mom - Mother Nature - to get the thing done. It snows one day in Southtown. Goodwill and belief in Santa is restored.
After holding out a bit longer, Santa Claus finally agrees to deliver gifts on Christmas Eve, and Mrs. Claus is there to smile and wrap up the story. It is the one Santa story in which Mrs. Claus is clearly the one in charge throughout, so much that Santa repeatedly refers to her as "Ma," a sign of obvious deference.
In 1990, Penny Ives wrote a children's book titled "Mrs. Santa Claus," and it features a plot somewhat similar to "The Year Without a Santa Claus." In this book, Santa wakes up one December morning covered in spots. He is flat-out sick. The reindeer, it turns out, also are covered in spots.
Mrs. Claus realizes that she and her pet birds must save the day. They go outside and gather the letters to Santa from the ground outside the house. They read the letters and make the toys themselves. But still, there is the problem of flying without reindeer.
Mrs. Claus decides to turn her trusty bicycle into a flying machine by attaching a vacuum cleaner to it. She hangs baskets from the bike, and places the toys in the baskets. Finally, she dons the famous red suit and hat.
On Christmas Eve, Mrs. Claus takes off on her flying bicycle, with a goose and chicken leading the way. She delivers all the gifts she has made, traveling down the chimneys to do so. When she returns, Mrs. Claus finds that Santa and the reindeer have created for her a runway, lit by candles. She lands, hugs Santa and takes a soak in the bathtub. Then she joins Santa for breakfast. Mrs. Claus has saved the day.
In 1996, Angela Lansbury starred in a film titled "Mrs. Santa Claus," in which Mrs. Claus takes the reindeer out for a spin and finds herself stranded in Manhattan at the turn of the century. She has to come up with some Christmas magic of her own to get out of the predicament. The film also stars Charles Durning; the score was by Jerry Herman, who wrote both Mame and Dear World, the shows for which Lansbury won two of her Broadway Tony Awards. It was in Mame that Lansbury debuted the modern carol, "We Need A Little Christmas," with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman.
A good deal of information about Mrs. Claus can be found on the Internet. It seems that Jessica Claus is quite the Web-savvy woman -- no surprise considering her many accomplishments (see above). At the World Wide Web site "northpole.com," she welcomes the reader into her kitchen.
The Web site "[email protected]" also features a letter from Mrs. Claus. She explains that she's making gingerbread snacks and has to iron Santa's big red suit. She urges children to behave themselves, to go to bed on time on Christmas Eve, and to E-mail Santa with letters.
"I am very happy that you stopped in to visit me here at the Cyber North Pole," she writes.
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