It’s long been known that behind every successful man is a strong and supportive woman.
That certainly will be true once again this Christmas Eve as Santa Claus departs the North Pole on his whirlwind mission around the world to bring toys and other gifts to little girls and boys. It’s a tough job in and of itself, which is why the “jolly old elf” relies heavily on Mrs. Claus to not only help him gets things done before the big night, but to hold down the fort while he’s away on that special overnight jaunt with his reindeer.
With that in mind, the Ledger-Enquirer spoke with Mrs. Claus recently at her story-time session with a group of children gathered on the holiday stage at Peachtree Mall. The kids spent a few moments with Santa in center court before venturing over to where Mrs. Claus, also known as Lyn Seaman-Leech, was preparing herself for the festive moment.
The story time was a blend of reading and singing, with the children participating with their own bells at one point, then joining in with their voices on the classic carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It was a moment certain to warm a cold Grinch’s heart.
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Afterward, Mrs. Claus, aka “Mrs. Lyn,” talked about why she enjoys the job of playing the right-hand woman of Santa Claus, and why adults themselves should never completely grow up. This interview is edited for length and clarity.
Q. Why are you here today, Mrs. Claus?
A. I’m here to do a story time for the children. I was invited to come because the mall wanted to bring the excitement of books to the children and do something for the community, and they thought Mrs. Claus would be a good idea. Because Santa is always here, but Mrs. Claus is usually in the back scene.
Q. So you enjoy reading to the kids?
A. I do. I came to be with the children, to get into the excitement of books with them, to ring the bells and get into the singing, to get into the holiday spirit. It’s to bring them the magic of the season and the magic of books. My purpose is to always hook children on books. They have all their (electronic) devices, so we need to let them see that there are fun books out there.
Q. What is your background in the realm of reading?
A. I was with the libraries for 26 years. In 2005, I became the early learning initiative coordinator. So my job was to be out in the community and in the library programming and reaching out to the children, primarily age 5 and under, and trying to reach those groups of people in the day cares, in the hospitals, anywhere there was a need. The library wanted to be out and helping educate and modeling and reading and helping children.
Q. Where have you worked?
A. I did a lot of programming at the Columbus Public Library. I had done public programming at the North Branch Library prior to that, and I loved every minute of it. It was my passion. Children are our future, so we have to put into them good things. Reading is the best thing ... But many children still do not get read to (by others such as their parents). Parents are so busy and doing two or three jobs, and they wait until the child starts school. And when that happens, they’re behind, and it takes a lot to catch up.
Q. Where does Mrs. Claus make her story-time appearances?
A. At the library ... day care centers, Columbus Regional’s Medical Center, and at Kids Café (operated by Feeding the Valley). Anytime I get a chance, I like to play Mrs. Claus.
Q. As the woman behind the man, what will you be doing as Santa prepares for his big Christmas Eve dash?
A. While he is preparing, I have to work with the elves. I have to keep their spirits up. They get tired. So I read them a book and I bake a lot of cookies. I just do lots and lots of cookies. I also prepare healthy meals. And I’m always on the lookout for anyone that might need encouragement as they work so hard. I also have to encourage Santa. He gets tired. But he just jumps right out of (the doldrums) when the 24th comes. He just has the spirit, and I am the person who encourages him. I am his cheerleader, that’s what I am.
Q. On Christmas Eve, after he’s dashing around Earth, are you then taking a deep breath?
A. (laughs) On Christmas Eve, I start to relax. I know that Santa will be fine. So I start to read my favorite book, and I’m able to do that with my hot cocoa and chocolate. And I wait. Santa keeps in contact with me so that I know where he is and that he’s safe. But, in the meantime, I’ve got my feet up by the fireplace. I’m reading my book just waiting for him to come home, and we can celebrate Christmas Day together.
Q. And then you quickly start all over for the next year?
A. Yes, we have to start preparing right away.
Q. You’re at the North Pole a lot, obviously, do you ever get to a warmer climate?
A. Well, sometimes we do sneak off, but we don’t let anybody know. We actually like Daytona Beach Shores (in Florida) and we go there to a condominium that no one knows about, and that’s where we stay. We have these wonderful people who rent it out to us. But we have to keep our secret, so we just wear our regular clothes when we’re walking around. Every once in a while, Santa goes, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” And I look and go “ssshhhhhh.” Then off he goes down to the mall with me and we do our own shopping. But we can’t stay gone very long because the North Pole is where we have to be most of the time. But, yes, we do go to a warmer climate.
Q. But I notice there are quite a few other Santas with red suits and snow white beards in the malls and elsewhere. Why is that?
A. That just happens because we have to reach everybody, so we have to have a lot of people with beards and red suits out there (representing him). They all love Santa. They all have been trained by the master, and they are out there just to bring that magic and holiday cheer, to listen to the children and hear what they say. But they report back to us, so we know it all.
Q. How about the elves, are they well behaved or are there a couple of rascals in the bunch?
A. (laughs) Well, you always have some rascals in the bunch. They have this one, he can only sit for so long, and then he jumps here and he jumps there. He wants to help everybody, but that’s not how we do it. You have a specific job. But he can’t help it, so he just hops to one thing and hops to another. And sometimes there’s one that’s sneaky and he likes to get under the bench, and he waits until you’re just about ready to put the last nail in and, boom, he pops up to scare you. But we talk to him, and it’s OK.
Q. So speaking with and reading to the children, such as you’re doing today, is a highlight for you?
A. The highlight of my day is, yes, to talk with and read to the children. I love the story time with the elves. But to be invited places, like the Peachtree Mall here, that’s wonderful because they are the people that have the sparkle and the magic.
Q. And they have a nice stage for you here?
A. Oh, it’s just like home. They must have taken a picture or something. I saw this rocking chair, and it’s got that warm, furry rug on it, and there’s a fireplace. And look at the tree, it’s just like at home.
Q. I always have to ask this. How old are you, Mrs. Claus?
A. Oh, you never ask a lady how old she is. You get to guess.
Q. I’m thinking you’re holding at 39?
A. Oh, yes. (laughs) This is such a wise man. (laughs)
Q. Finally, like Santa, you ultimately enjoy getting into the spirit of the holiday, punctuated by the joy of reading?
A. Yes, I like the magic of the holiday. I love the magic of the books. I like to draw the children in. I even like to draw the adults in.
I really recommend everybody re-read “The Polar Express” by Chris Van Allsburg (and made into an animated film in 2004). Read the book, and look at the end where he writes a special message to adults. And in that message, paraphrasing it, he talks about the fact that when he was 8 years old and learned that there was no Santa Claus, it made him feel grown-up. It also took away his magic. It took away that expectation, that excitement. It wasn’t quite the same. So over the years it gave him the inspiration to write the book, because at the end it says: Do not grow too old so that you do not hear the bell. So I want the adults and children forever to hear the bell.”
Age: 69 and holding
Hometown: Columbus, her father was in the military and traveled all around, so her family is here
Current residence: Columbus
Education: Attended high school in Hawaii; earned a degree in early childhood education from Columbus State University
Family: Husband, Ed Leech, and son, Tom Headlee, and daughter, Kristen Weems, plus five grandsons and many extended family members in the Columbus area
Leisure time: She enjoys exercising, doing yoga, cooking and, of course, reading