Kristina Kringle / Mary Christmas
(Historically believed to be) Mysteries of City Life; or, Stray Leaves from the World’s Book … (1849)
The wife of Santa Claus, she is believed to have been introduced in the short story "A Christmas Legend" (1849) by James Rees (however, realistically, someone, somewhere most likely told their child that Santa had a wife long before that).
In the 16th century, the public officials of York would go “Yule Riding,” i.e., ride horseback through the streets in an annual St. Thomas’ Day ceremony that ushered in the Christmas season. “But the sheriffs, their wives, and their serjeants were not the chief show in the streets of York …. ‘Yule and his wife’ amused the good citizens, and no doubt drew a larger crowd after them than all the officials of their city …” (“Old York”). The pair were so popular that the archbishop was afraid the entertainment would keep citizens from church and so penned a letter in 1572 forbidding it, saying that the “two disguised persons, called Yule and Yule’s wife, … ride through the city very undecently and uncomely, drawing great concourses of people after them to gaze, [which] tendeth … to the profaning of that day appointed to holy uses, and also withdrawing great multitudes of people from Divine service and sermons ….” The archbishop’s letter may be the earliest public document to mention a Mother Christmas character.
By 1874, some Christmas mummers plays in England were including the character of Father Christmas’ wife, named Old Bet, Old Betty and Dame Dorothy in the extant transcripts. In an argument about whether their next meal should be roasted or fried, Father Christmas gets so enraged at Old Bet that he strikes her dead. Luckily, a nearby physician is able to bring her back to life (“Christmas Mummers in Dorsetshire”). Two later stories (“There Was a Boy Who Lived on Pudding Lane” and “The Great Adventure of Mrs. Santa Claus”) give Mrs. Santa Claus the related name Bessie rather than Betty. (See below.)
The idea found its way in several short stories over the following decades until becoming the protagonist of "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride" (1888) by Katharine Lee Bates (Goody being short for "Goodwife" used instead of 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".
She has since appeared in multiple literature stories, comic books and (less often) in film and television.
In “There Was a Boy Who Lived on Pudding Lane,” Santa Claus grows up in Cole’s kingdom alongside nursery rhyme characters and marries a local woman named Bessie before moving with her to the North Country to become toymakers for the children of the world.
In some stories, she and Santa have offspring: Kitty Claus, or Bertha and Fritz.
In The Marriage of Santa Claus, Santa Claus is portrayed as a lonely bachelor trying to determine the best candidate to be his wife. Concluding it should be someone who loves children as much as he does, he rushes off to propose to Mother Goose rather than Mother Christmas or Spring the Beauty as in other stories. After she accepts, the reindeer immediately carry her and her “children” (numerous nursery‐rhyme and fairy‐tale characters) to live in Santa Claus’ “great palace,” apparently before even any wedding ceremony.
Public Domain Literary Appearances
- Letter by Edmund Grindal, Archbishop of York, 13 Nov. 1572, suppressing the annual riding of Yule and Yule’s wife. Reprinted in “Old York,” pt. 3, by Rev. J. Morris, The Month, vol. 6 (25), no. 24 (138), Dec. 1875. (HathiTrust)
- “A Christmas Legend,” in Mysteries of City Life; or, Stray Leaves from the World’s Book, Being a Series of Tales, Sketches, Incidents, and Scenes, Founded upon the Notes of a Home Missionary, by James Rees, 1848. (HathiTrust)
- “Mrs. Santa Claus and Jessie Brown,” Harper’s Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, vol. 13, no. 628, 9 Jan. 1869. (Internet Archive)
- “Christmas Mummers in Dorsetshire,” by John Udal, Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc., 5th ser., vol. 2, no. ?, 26 Dec. 1874. (Internet Archive)
- “Christmas Mummers in Dorsetshire,” by John Udal, The Folk‐lore Record, vol. 3, pt. 1, 1880. Greatly expanded to include entire transcripts of mummers plays. (Internet Archive)
- “Old York,” pt. 3, by Rev. J. Morris, The Month, vol. 6 (25), no. 24 (138), Dec. 1875. (HathiTrust)
- “The Marriage of Santa Claus,” in The Reading Club and Handy Speaker: Being Serious, Humorous, Pathetic, Patriotic, and Dramatic Selections in Prose and Poetry, for Readings and Recitations, no. 9, ed. George Melville Baker, 1881. (Internet Archive)
- “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh‐Ride,” by Katharine Lee Bates, Wide Awake, vol. 28, no. 1, Dec. 1888. (HathiTrust)
- Reprinted in Sunshine and Other Verses for Children, 1890. (Internet Archive)
- Santa Claus’ Daughter: A Musical Christmas Burlesque in Two Acts …, by Everett Elliott and F. W. Hardcastle, Ames’ Series of Standard and Modern Drama, no. 309, 1892. Santa Claus is portrayed as a king, “Ruler of the Kingdom of the North Pole,” where he lives with Mrs. Santa Claus and their daughter in a “Snow Castle” or “Snow‐palace.” (Mrs. Santa Claus should logically be the queen but she is not described as such.) The kingdom is defended by, among others, a female personification of Christmas, a separate character from Mrs. Claus/Mother Christmas. (Internet Archive)
- “The Conquest of Santa Claus: A Christmas Entertainment,” by Caroline A. Creevey and Margaret E. Sangster, Harper’s Young People, vol. 16, no. 787, 27 Nov. 1894. (Internet Archive)
- “A Child’s Christmas Prayer” (poem), in Songs with Silver Linings, by James W. Foley, 1910. (HathiTrust)
- Mrs. Santa Claus, Militant: A Christmas Comedy, by Bell Elliott Palmer, 1914. Mrs. Santa Claus gets tired of making toys in Iceland while Mr. Santa Claus (whom she calls “Jolly”) gets all the credit, so she waits for him to take a nap and then steals his sleigh and attempts to deliver the Christmas presents herself, mixing some of them up due to her inexperience. The final gifts are delivered to a squalid New York City tenement where Mr. Santa Claus catches up to her and declares that she shall ride with him every Christmas thereafter. (Google Books)
- When Santa Claus Went to the Front, by Ethel E. Reed and Martha G. Kendall, 1918. (Internet Archive)
- Telephoning to Santa Claus, by John D. MacDonald, 1919. (Internet Archive)
- A Christmas Dilemma, by Katharine Van Etten Lyford, 1920. (Internet Archive)
- “There Was a Boy Who Lived on Pudding Lane: A True Account, if Only You Believe It, of the Life and Ways of Santa, Eldest Son of Mr. and Mrs. Claus,” by Sarah Addington, The Ladies’ Home Journal, vol. 38, no. 12, Dec. 1921. (HathiTrust)
- Queen Christmas: A Pageant Play, by Carolyn Wells, 1922. (Internet Archive)
- “The Great Adventure of Mrs. Santa Claus,” by Sarah Addington, The Ladies’ Home Journal, vol. 39, no. 12, Dec. 1922. (HathiTrust)
- The Christmas Forest, by Louise Fatio, 1950. In the public domain from failure to renew copyright. (HathiTrust)
Public Domain Film Appearances
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
- The copyright year in Roman numerals was mis-marked as MCLXIV (1164) instead of the correct MCMLXIV (1964). Per U.S. law at the time, this invalidated the copyright, causing it to enter the public domain immediately upon release.