There would be no Christmas without unpaid work of women like Mrs Claus

SHE had endured it for centuries and would endure it for centuries more.

Well, one year she might say no and what would happen then? Sometimes, usually around mid-June when the work began, she had a little day dream about simply… not beginning.

Vaguely she remembered a short story she had read in a magazine once that had the repeated line, “I would prefer not to”. What story was that? It nagged at the nape of her neck.

The characters were called Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut. That detail, at least, had found permanent space in her head as there were elves in the workshop of the same names.

She remembered the character died at the end and thought it reflected badly on the construct of passive resistance yet captured neatly the silliness of men.

Come this time of year it seemed extraordinary to her that she might ever have the time to sit and read a story in a magazine.

Three children, a full time job of her own and the great global annual challenge. Did anyone remember her own job?

She had actually been a lawyer before she met Nick, a rather promising legal career ahead of her and groundbreaking for a woman at the time.

Now she was largely engaged in warding off the yearly legal challenges around housebreaking, trespass and criminal damage.

People used to be absolutely delighted to wake on Christmas morning to find the gifts of their labour – the collective efforts of the North Pole entire – under their trees.

Now, though, they were so litigious. It was affronting. Nick would become outraged every January when the letters from the grown ups began to arrive. The post bag was a real yin yang situation. For the first six months it was greedy chancers, trying to cadge a buck from her husband’s admittedly unutterable clumsiness.

This then segued seemlessly into the letters from the little people, asking for dolls and bikes and iPads, the odd Porsche and sometimes the heartbreaking letters with wishes that could not be delivered, neither by Santa Claus nor God.

Nick would similarly segue from fury to despair at these and it was her role to perk him up. She had learned the secrets of it over the years, smoothing and reassuring and cheering him. It was a job in itself, he was worse than the children, who were pretty exhausting. Everywhere you looked someone was having an emotion.

How many other solicitors required the working knowledge of the legal systems of so many countries at once? None, she would quite confidently wager, and she bet they practised under their own names.

Mrs Claus. There was no one to soothe her rage. Soothing was her exclusive work and so she applied her own salve to her own hurts.

In fact, she had not taken his name when they married. The children had her name too. It was agreed that being a Claus would be an insufferable burden. Of course, the benefit of immortality was that you had no concerns on passing the family name down. And there were no concerns from Nick about ensuring his branding was stamped on his progeny.

Who else might be the father out here, nothing but snow as far as sight? An elf? One scuttled past at that moment, carrying a LOL Surprise doll nearly the same size as him, and she snorted. Besides, when would she even have the time?

For a while, she had seen herself in stories and in print styled as Goody Claus, “Goody” being short for “goodwife”. She wondered why woman had for so long put up with being the chattel of their husbands. Well, she was a hypocrite. She lived in perpetual service of her husband and family.

She thought it might be nice to have a wife. Nick took the headline roll because the physical labour was his. Off on his sled at midnight, whizzing around the globe. Pop a present here, bang a toy there, fizz, sparkle.

She might not fizz and sparkle, she might not have an internationally famous red suit. The bloody reindeer might take more credit than she, but make no mistake – none of this was happening without her.

Did Nick start fretting in early April about ensuring there was enough wrapping paper? Did he take a full week to coordinate bows and ribbons on each present, making them look as beautiful as youth? This was the most thankless of all tasks because it was such a fleeting achievement. Most of it would be ripped off by 6am and flung aside in the pre-sun darkness.

Did Nick feel the intense pressure of time as a worrying hand on the small of his back? No, it was she who collated the present list. There was no naughty and nice, that was a nonsense.

Every child deserved a gift and none would go without. Nick seemed to think this list appeared out of thin air. When one lives in a world with elves and flying reindeer, it’s easier to forget that nothing happens by chance. But come on. Did he have any idea how long the list making took?

How taxing it was to match child to perfect gift, child to perfect gift, child to… 2.2 billion times. He had never bought her a present and she had never mentioned it.

Had Nick ever once written a Christmas card since they married? The couple sent out 8000 each year to close friends and family, her hand forging his signature on each.

The decorations. Christmas dinner. When he returned from his global gadabout, he wanted a hot, festive breakfast. It was barely cleared away before the lunch preparations began.

Who did she do it for, she wondered? The children expected it, and believed it to all happen as though by magic. She suspected she would have fellow feeling from fellow women. Her husband took credit for much of their labours too.

Nick expected it also but would he care if the tree wasn’t perfectly trimmed? Would he notice were not there a little tinkling bauble attached to the ribbon of his gift? If the table settings were mismatched?

Is this all a giant perpetual pageant that could be dropped at any moment if only women let go? Do we do it for ourselves, she wondered? A rod for our own backs.

Maybe environmental concerns would be the thing to fall the axe on this faff. Men were invested in climate change, weren’t they, so that would likely impact more than decades of feminism ever could.

Now, this was her lot. There was too much at stake: the happiness of children and the felicity of families.

Another line from the short story returned to her as she looked across at a workshop writhing with elves, her hand resting on the hot flank of a tautly waiting reindeer.

Time to wake Nick from his afternoon nap. “Ah Santa,” she thought. “Ah humanity.”

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