“What does Santa wear in the summer?”
“How many elves ride with Santa on Christmas Eve?”
“How does Santa get in if we don’t have a chimney?”
These questions and hundreds of others have been answered over the last 50 years by Mary McDonald – better known to Cody-area children as “Mrs. Santa.”
“After 50 years, there’s not a question I can’t answer now,” McDonald said.
The 91-year-old McDonald, who moved to Cody with her family in 1991, continues her annual tradition of calling young children in the days before Christmas, answering their questions about Santa, his reindeer and even Mrs. Claus herself.
“I had a little girl who asked what I was wearing,” McDonald told Cowboy State Daily. “I said my red dress and my white apron, and she said, ‘That’s just what I imagined.’”
McDonald said she first took on the alter ego of Mrs. Santa when her daughter, Debbie, was in elementary school.
“Debbie is 61, and the first time I started was probably 50 years ago, calling some of her friends who had little brothers and sisters who wondered if Santa was going to go to see them,” McDonald said.
McDonald makes the Mrs. Santa calls to the children and grandchildren of friends and family. At the most, she said she’s spoken to as many as 30 little ones in one year. But Mrs. Santa has never made an in-person visit. She’s always been just a friendly voice over the phone.
However, McDonald – a tireless church and hospice volunteer, even into her 90s – has a cheery persona that shines through every call.
50 Years of Questions
Over the years, McDonald has answered hundreds of questions from youngsters eager to know more about the Jolly Old Elf. A few stand out, including one from a little boy who was very concerned because their house didn’t have a chimney.
“I told him that Santa always has two elves in this sleigh,” McDonald said. “One has a magic key that can get into the house, and the other one can help if there’s a big parcel – but I told him that Santa can always get into their house.”
The saddest conversation McDonald can recall was with a little girl whose father was terminally ill, and the family wasn’t sure he would make it to New Year’s Day. But when Mrs. Santa called, it brightened the mood of the entire household.
“I phoned her,” said McDonald. “And she said, ‘Oh, Mrs. Santa, just a minute.’ And she said, ‘Now, I’ve climbed up onto the chair and I’m comfy.’ Well, we talked about everything.”
Kids Ask The Darndest Things
McDonald said the questions have changed over the last half-century, in large part a reflection of popular culture.
“The kids all have TV,” she said, “and they see the different stories and more things about Santa than they did 50 years ago.”
However different the questions might be today, McDonald said the joy remains.
“When you get a little kid, especially 4-year-olds who believe (in Santa Claus), the questions they ask and the excitement of Santa coming?” said McDonald. “They are so fun. So fun!”
A Trick Or Two
McDonald enlists the help of parents to make the “magic” happen. She said if there’s a particular task little ones do around the house, she’ll incorporate that into the conversation.
“Maybe it’s taking the clothes out of the dryer, maybe clearing the dishes or setting the table,” she said. “And so I say, ‘Santa’s little helpers have been around peeking in the window, and saw you doing this and that, and it made Santa very happy to see you being so kind.’”
McDonald has learned over the years how to handle sensitive questions. For example, responding when a child wants a gift that she knows the parents won’t be getting them for Christmas.
“I’ll usually say, ‘Santa got your letter, he knows what you want for Christmas, but he’s got so many children who have asked him for that particular thing this year, that when he gets your house he may not have any left,’” she tells them. “‘But boy, will he have something special for you!’”
The Perfect Age
McDonald said she prefers to make calls to 4-year-olds, which is just the right age to appreciate the magic of Santa Claus.
“The kids in kindergarten have friends who are telling them there’s no Santa,” she said. “And at 3, they really don’t talk on the phone. They’ll shake their heads yes and no, but you don’t get a conversation.”
And 4-year-olds always have interesting questions, McDonald said – like the little boy who asked if Santa wore his red suit in the summer.
“I said, ‘Oh, no. In the summertime, he puts on his overalls, and he and his two little favorite elves, they take their fishing rods and they go fishing,’” she said. “That little boy said, ‘Oh my gosh, I do that with my dad!’”
The Most Stressful Time of the Year
McDonald believes that her Mrs. Santa calls come at just the right time every year.
“It sort of eases the tension sometimes for the parents, because there’s whining about how many more days, am I going to this or that,” she said. “And when you say that the elves peeked in the window, then they sort of get that magic that Santa’s helpers could be anywhere, so they better be good!”
And after 50 years, the magic of being Mrs. Santa still brings McDonald nothing but joy.
“If I can make a child happy,” she said, “that just makes Christmas for me.”