When my children were little, they got to experience the joy of Christmas nearly every day at school thanks to Dianne Petty, who was a teaching assistant in their kindergarten classes. Dianne, a tiny, Southern dynamo, is married to Santa Claus, who sometimes goes by the name Pat Petty. And while her husband is super-popular this time of year, Dianne is also big on Christmas, keeping her house decorated all year long. Everyone knows Santa. Now it’s time to meet the woman behind the jolly guy. Meet Dianne Petty, aka Mrs. Claus.
When did your husband Pat start playing the part of Santa?
About 25 years ago, I was in a philanthropic group, and we had a breakfast with Santa event. One year, our Santa canceled, and Pat filled in. He didn’t have a beard then, so we used a fake one. But he got us out of a pickle, and he just loved it! He did it every year after that. He eventually grew a beard, and Santa really got into his blood. He has such a gift, and it just spills out of him.
What is it like being Mrs. Claus?
I don’t want to be one of those little old ladies who wears the granny clothes. If children ask me if I am Mrs. Claus, I always say yes, but I gave myself another title. I like to call myself Santa’s processor. I help him fix things, support him and share the Christmas spirit with others, because he is Santa all year round.
What is it like when you go out in public?
It is almost like being married to a celebrity. I mean, everyone knows Santa. I cannot tell you how many pictures we have had taken in Kroger or wherever with kids and adults. Folks come up to us nearly every time we go out in public. And it is not just children; adults are fascinated with Santa. Being with Santa invites people to come up and talk, even if they are total strangers.
How do you learn how to be Santa and Mrs. Claus?
Every year, for the past 10 years, we have gone to the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan. It is the oldest Santa school in the world, and we meet with a group of Santas from all over. It is like a brotherhood. These are men who love Santa and sharing Christmas. And the wives all understand each other. I mean, who is going to understand what it feels like to be married to Santa besides another Mrs. Claus? But really, Pat is just so authentic. From the first moment he put on the suit, he became Santa.
Okay, speaking of the suit, where do you shop for Santa clothes?
The Santa Claus school has a top-secret tailor who custom makes the suits. They are just beautiful, made of wool and perfectly fitted. They made a beautiful coat for me out of the same wool.
What are some of the events you have attended as Mrs. Claus?
Oh, so many charity events. Of course, schools. He was Santa for George Jones for many years. He’s been on Good Morning America. And for the last few years, we have been Santa at the tree lighting with Governor Haslam.
What are some of the questions you are asked when you are out with Pat?
Kids will ask if we remember them from last year. And why we aren’t at the North Pole. But the question we are asked most is where are the reindeer. We tell them they are resting up for the big night. You have to stay on your toes. I was being interviewed once, and they asked my name. I can’t be Dianne, so I told them my name is Holly. It seems to fit with Santa.
What is the most impactful thing that has happened because of the Santa connection?
My only grandchild died unexpectedly 12 years ago in November. One Christmas, I was really grieving. It was Christmas Eve, and we were on our way to a longtime family friend’s home. We had to stop by Kroger, and when we parked in the parking lot, I just put my head down and started crying. A woman was walking past our car and saw Pat and said, “Oh my gosh, it’s Santa!” Then she saw me crying. For some reason, I blurted out the story about my grandbaby. She prayed with us right in the parking lot. She was a preacher’s wife. Then she invited us to her home and amazingly, she lived right up the street from our family friends. We went to her home that night, and her friends and family just surrounded us with love. I was so blessed that year, and I know she never would have stopped except she saw Santa. Christmas can be magical like that.
Is that why you keep your holiday decorations up all year long?
I may be going into Christmas decoration hoarder territory. But my house has been decorated for Christmas for 13 years. I like to say I don’t have dust, it’s snow. And all my cobwebs are really icicles. Of course, when November rolls around, I love the fact that my tree is already up and decorated.
Okay, some personal questions. What is your favorite Christmas song?
What’s your favorite part of the holiday?
I love decorating for Christmas, especially using fresh greens all over the house.
What three things, aside from faith, family and friends, can you not live without?
Number one, I love my iPad. Number two and three? I really don’t have anything I can’t live without. I feel very blessed.
Do you still believe in Santa Claus?
Of course! Nobody ever told me Santa wasn’t real.
Thank you, Dianne! And special thanks to Abigail Bobo Photography for today’s photos!