Some folks can't get enough of the holidays: They throw on Christmas records before Thanksgiving, leave their lights up all year round, and stock up on gifts in July. But Santa Claus and his wife of six years, Merry Christmas Claus (yes, these are their real names), take it to a whole new level.
The couple, who have been suiting up as Santa and Mrs. Claus at malls since 2009, legally ditched their given names (which they've asked be kept out of this article) in November 2016, in favor of something a bit jollier.
"Santa picked the name Santa, because, well, he embodies the spirit of what Christmas is all about," says Merry Christmas. "I picked Merry Christmas, because I can't think of anything better than wishing somebody a Merry Christmas!"
Santa and Merry Christmas–who tell Country Living they are 860 and 861 years old, respectively–reside with their dog, Bear Claus, in Omaha, Nebraska. They meet with children and the elderly in their "dress reds" (their term for Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits) around Christmastime and, when the holiday hubbub simmers down in the warmer months, Santa works as a taxi driver and Merry Christmas stays at home.
"But really, the holidays never end for us," adds Santa. "Because when you're Santa and Mrs. Claus, every day is Christmas!"
The unique duo met on a dating site in December 2009 and quickly fell in love. "He offered to make me dinner, and I said to myself, 'There aren't many men willing to cook a woman dinner!' I knew I'd found a keeper," says Merry Christmas. "I was so drawn to his humor and the goodness in his heart."
A few months earlier, Santa's good friend had suggested he purchase a red suit and try his hand at playing Santa at an Omaha Village Inn restaurant for $40 an hour. Santa fell in love with his new job and, after meeting Merry Christmas online, suggested she tag along with him to a nursing center, to see him in action as Saint Nick. By then, he'd managed to book $2,500 worth of parties for the season, including appearances at retirement centers and nursing centers.
"I'd come to realize his depth of character as we communicated online, but to see him with seniors, I knew this man embodied Santa Claus and he was amazing at it," recalls Merry Christmas. "He had this gentle tenderness about him, and I'd look at him, in awe, because of how big his heart was. It was love at first sight."
In 2010, Merry Christmas bought her first billowing red robe, so she could officially accompany her boyfriend to events, as his Mrs. Claus. The couple began landing gigs at hospitals, day care centers, and nursing homes together.
They officially tied the knot on April 4, 2011, after Santa proposed to Merry Christmas while the two were working an event. The wedding was not Christmas themed, they say, although they get asked that question all the time.
In 2012, Santa scored a coveted mall-Santa position at a local mall in Omaha. And in the subsequent years, he went on to work as a "floating Santa," traveling across the country covering for Santas who fell ill or couldn't make it to their shift. Merry Christmas stayed home with Bear.
The separation was hard on the couple, so Santa decided to quit traveling and stick to doing Santa stints with his wife in Omaha. Merry Christmas says she especially loves their appearances with children, because she is no longer able to conceive.
"My own two children, at age 3 and 10 days, were killed by a drunk driver in the 1980s, and that crash also took away my ability to have children," she explains. "I've always had a missing piece of my heart, so I love working with children. My own kids were taken away from me, but now, as Mrs. Claus, I have all the little children in the world, and they are so precious to me."
After work one day in September 2016, Santa came home with internet printouts detailing how to legally change their names.
"He came in, with all this literature, like, 'I think I want to change my name to Santa Claus,'" recalls Merry Christmas. "I said, 'Well I was literally thinking about that today, too! I want to be Merry Christmas Claus.' And we just kind of looked at each other. It was an amazing moment, because it came to both of us on the exact same day."
So, on November 7, 2016, the couple walked into Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha, paid a $65 fee each, and officially changed their names to Santa and Merry Christmas Claus. They haven't looked back since.
"There was so much positive support from all of our friends and family, because they knew our focus was on the children and on Christmas," says Santa. "We had some friends that were like, 'You guys are crazy!'"
The couple says they've learned to ignore the stares they get while ordering Starbucks or getting their names called at the doctor's office.
"I was in the airport on a flight back from Phoenix and misplaced my luggage, so I ran around the terminal looking for it," says Merry Christmas. "As I'm starting to get frantic, I hear over the PA system, Merry Christmas Claus please come claim your bag, and everybody is looking at me like did they just say Merry Chirstmas Claus? I just smile."
When people see them in action as Santa and Mrs. Claus at hospitals, homes, or schools, that's when they really begin to understand why the couple chose to change their names.
"One time, Santa managed to get an elderly woman out of her wheelchair and they started dancing," recalls Merry Christmas. "I talked to her son, who was 70, and he told me that his mother had recently decided there was nothing to live for and she'd not been out of that chair or smiled in weeks. It was just so precious, and that's why we do this."
Santa is also, "so, so fabulous" with children, according to his wife. "The kids get such a glow and are in total awe when they realize they're talking to Santa," says Merry Christmas. "It's because he takes a genuine interest in them and makes them feel special."
She says her husband is also "spot on" with appropriate, kid-friendly jokes. On occasion, he'll even make up his own. One of his better cracks is about an iPod:
"When kids ask for iPods, he will say 'Why an iPod, wouldn't you rather have a three pod? There's three peas in a pod, but there's only one 'I' in an iPod,'" she says. "The parents roar with laughter over that one."
This year, Santa and Merry Christmas have more than 25 gigs lined up at daycares, nursing homes, a Sam's Club, a Harley Davidson store, and family parties.
"We're thankful for the holidays, because it's really what brought us together, but, now every day is a holiday to us," says Santa. "No matter what you believe in, we say if everybody kept Santa and Mrs. Claus close in their hearts every day, each day would be better for everyone."