Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St Nick: he’s a man of many names. Each country and culture has a slightly different version of the man, from Sinterklaas who brings gifts to The Netherlands to Papai Noel who visits Brazil. Some believe these all to be the same man, and they do all have traits in common, including “maleness.” However, studies show that women are much more likely than men to take on the responsibility of purchasing presents for their loved ones. In essence: Santa Claus may be delivering the gifts, but you can bet Mrs Claus has planned, purchased, and wrapped them.
In a paper on gift giving, Wolfinbarger and Gilly quote, “…women are largely responsible for the giving of gifts, women influence gift purchase, and women generally make the actual purchase. The only gift-giving behaviour which appears to be shared nearly equally by the sexes is gift receiving.”
The reasons behind this gift-giving gap are varied, but the heavy hitter is the difference between the private and public spheres. Typically, men participate more in the ‘public sphere’ through politics, economics, and performing miracles on 34th Street. Women, on the other hand, participate more in the private sphere through childcare, housework, and making sure the reindeer are fed. The purchasing of gifts is firmly placed in the private sphere, classically making it the domain of women. These associations are constantly shifting, as women are empowered to take up space in the public sphere, and men are encouraged to participate more in the private space. The queeringQueering is understood as a method questioning and challenging monolithic, heteronormative, and binary understandings of gender, sexuality, masculinity, and femininity.close of relationships has also contributed to the dissemination of traditional gender roles. But, women in heteronormative relationships are still much more likely to be the gift giver.
So why is Santa a man? It could be because he is based on Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children who had a habit of giving ‘secret gifts’. It could also be because of the extensive folk history of many countries which talks of a jolly man with a big beard who delivers a Christmastime message. It could also be because Santa is in charge of a large factory with an intense production line, a role typically performed by men. Whatever the reason, most countries have a man Santa, and the media almost always portrays the same. It is important to note that Mrs Claus does also exist (for want of a better word) and she is most commonly portrayed as either, 1) an old woman who does all the things an old woman ‘should’ do, namely keeping the house tidy for Santa, making dinner for Santa, etc. etc., or 2) a sexy, short skirted, long white stockinged piece of Christmas candy.
In essence, despite Santa being portrayed as a man, the onus of gift giving often falls on women. The same weariness many women feel at signing their partner’s name in a Christmas card he doesn’t even know you are sending may very well be felt by Mrs Claus. As they say, behind every great man is a woman with stamps.