Apologies first to all fans of The Santa Clause II, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other holiday favorites. However, if you are the kind who likes your Christmas traditions to have some element of truth, the character of Mrs. Santa Claus in these movies may make you feel uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, for some reason, storytellers are not happy with the historical figure upon which Santa Claus is based. Like Disney princesses, Saint Nick must have a better half, a romantic companion, even if her sole contribution to the story is to make sure the jolly old elf stays round and plump. (“Eat, Papa! Eat!”) I am all for poetic license, and I even enjoy many of the above-mentioned movies. However, the real Santa did not have a Mrs. Claus.
Will the real Santa Claus please stand up?
Saint Nicholas was the bishop of Myra in the fourth century. He may have been a contemporary of Saint Valentine, Constantine the Great, Saints Augustine and Monica, and Saint George, whose legend includes the slaying of dragons. Many of the larger-than-life biographies we have of these and others come from stories their great admirers passed down. For Saint Nicholas, it is no different.
The legend tells of the bishop’s great charity. He felt moved to help a man who was too poor to provide dowries for his three daughters. When the oldest was of marrying age, the father decided to sell her to men to provide an income for the family. That night, Nicholas, in disguise, tossed a bag of gold coins into the window of the young girl, enough for a dowry. As each girl reached the age when the father felt he had no choice but to sell them, the holy bishop returned with another bag of gold. He secretly tossed them into the poor man’s house to prevent him from committing the terrible sin of prostituting his daughters.
A modern twist
Gift-giving at Christmas may trace its roots to Saint Nicolas, the three wise men, or the gift of the Christ Child himself. But the legend of Santa Claus, a mispronunciation of “Saint Nicholas,” morphed into a jolly fat man whose sole purpose is to make little children happy by bringing them all the toys they want (or to help confused single women find love in Hallmark movies). It is lost on modern society that Saint Nicholas’ gifts were not to fulfill the material desires of people. They were to spare them the pain and consequences of sin.
A modern version of this story may have a gluttonous Mr. Claus reluctantly intervening in the poor man’s life through the nagging and manipulation of his more charitable wife. Or perhaps Mrs. Santa Claus may become jealous over her husband’s concern for three young maidens rather than his wife waiting home alone on Christmas Eve.
It may give some charm to a movie for Santa to have a loyal wife waiting home at the end of his rounds. Or you may prefer the bachelor Santas, such as in Miracle on 34th Street (1947, of course) or Elf. Either way, the historical Santa, as a bishop of the church, would not have had a wife, toy-making elves, or a sleigh with reindeer. In my opinion, that makes the story even more miraculous.