SHERIDAN — Judy Taylor, better known to some in the community as Mrs. Claus, asked her cousin Jack Wood to play her counterpart, Santa, last year for the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce Christmas Stroll. Both take their positions seriously, mentally preparing for the wide array of answers coming out of the mouths of local children sitting on their laps at many locations throughout the holiday season.
Taylor started as Mrs. Claus several years ago, hand making her costume out of a cheap velvet material. Now, with a new handmade suit with fresher, higher quality velvet, she delights in serving the community as Mrs. Claus alongside her comical cousin, Wood.
To fully embrace the art of becoming Mrs. Claus, Taylor reads up on the newest and most popular toys on the market. Familiarizing herself with the new selection gives her talking points with the hundreds of children crawling onto her lap.
While her preparations do help somewhat, Taylor said there is really no way to fully prepare for what children will say or do. She has heard the gamut of responses to the question, “What would you like for Christmas?” Many children often rattle off toys and gadgets, but others think more deeply and respond with “peace on earth” or for fathers to come home from war.
Taylor dresses head-to-toe as similarly as possible each year, as she said children notice even the smallest similarities or differences in her ensemble.
A 4- or 5-year-old boy told Taylor this year that he knew she was the real Mrs. Claus, not one of Santa’s “helpers” as his mother explained.
“He said ‘I know that you’re the real Mrs. Claus’ and he took this big sniff, ‘because you smell just like you did last year,’” Taylor said. “So I always wear L’air Du Temps perfume around Christmas just in case somebody else notices.”
Other children even notice she wears the same snowflake earrings at each appearance.
Taylor said because she’s been doing the bit for so long, the thousands of pictures taken of her and Mr. Claus span generations of Sheridanites coming to visit the popular duo. She’s had grandparents bring their grandchildren forward and explain to her that they were at the age of their grandchildren when they had a picture taken with Taylor.
Taylor’s counterpart, Wood, started in on the fun last year.
Wood lost a daughter and wanted to experience the spirit of Christmas through the eyes of a child and with great joy. So, he suited up and joined Taylor around the community. For the first year, he donned a false white beard to listen to children’s Christmas wishes.
“I donate and do a lot, give a lot of volunteer work, and it just seemed something that I just wanted to do,” Wood said. “It’s really gratifying just to see the smile on the kids’ faces.”
Wood receives letters from parents expressing their thanks for bringing joy and magic to the lives of their children. He keeps those and every single hand-drawn picture from the children in a scrapbook at home.
What touches and humbles Wood the most, though, are the children and families he knows cannot afford the laundry list of toys desired by the children. For those families, Wood said he wishes he could go up to the parents and tell them he’ll take care of it for them. Wood and Taylor put in a lot of volunteer hours over the Christmas season, making numerous appearances throughout town, including celebrations at the Community Holiday Dinner, bank and coal mine company parties.
“I don’t want to turn it down because it’s gratifying to me to see these kids,” Wood said. “I get more enjoyment giving than I do taking, so it just makes it better for me to enjoy my holiday.”
Taylor feels similarly, noting that this way of giving back is one of her most treasured.
“I’ve sat on a lot of boards and belonged to a lot of service clubs and stuff like that over the years,” Taylor said. “The Mrs. Claus one is just something I do because I like to do it.
“It’s just fun. The kids, they always surprise you, and they’re always so delighted to see you,” Taylor continued. “They want to believe, and you want to keep that spirit alive as long as you can.”