WATERVILLE — Like thousands of Maine children this Christmas, Mackenzie O’Ben’s 6-year-old daughter wrote a letter to Santa Claus. In it, she said all she wanted was for her cat, Mabel, who died last year, to be “doing OK in heaven.”

What the child received in response was a heartfelt note saying, “The ones that love us, love us forever. Death doesn’t stop that.”

The note indicated it was from Santa, but according to sources at the North Pole there’s a Waterville woman, Jennifer Johnson, who works closely with him to craft responses to letters from central Maine children.

O’Ben took to Facebook recently to share the note and express her thanks.

“It was a beautiful letter,” O’Ben told the Morning Sentinel on Thursday. Her daughter, Videlle, couldn’t believe Santa knew about Mabel, O’Ben said. “She’s had a really hard time. It brought her a lot of comfort.”

Johnson, 45, has been working with Santa since 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic led to the temporary closure of the popular Kringleville village in downtown Waterville.


The Children’s Discovery Museum of Central Maine has organized Kringleville (as well as the Parade of Lights) since 2017 and looked to a handful of volunteers in 2020 to keep children in the Christmas spirit by working with Santa to pen his responses to letters.

Johnson was one of three volunteers asked to write postcards and was thrilled to do it. In the years since, she has taken on the task alone, writing 30 to 40 letters from Santa each year to local children. This year she’s written more than 50.

Jennifer Johnson answers Santa Claus’ mail with personal messages Wednesday at her home office in Waterville. Johnson said she has responded to more than 50 letters that Santa received at the Kringleville village in downtown Waterville over the Christmas season. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

As a mother to three teenagers, she said it’s been “a really nice way for me to stay connected with that magical part of Christmas.”

Johnson gets in the mood each year by putting on some Christmas music and pulling on her Santa hat, before she settles in behind her desk to write.

Most of the time, Johnson said she doesn’t get much to go off. She knows a child’s name, and from the child’s handwriting or drawing ability can usually deduce their age, too. But many of the requests she gets are odd or ambiguous, she said. They often can be sad.

In the case of O’Ben’s daughter, Johnson said she didn’t know whether Mabel was a person or a pet. “It was just ‘Mabel in heaven,'” Johnson said. “So I had to really work on my wording to make sure my answer made sense.”


Johnson takes care to make sure each letter is tailored and thoughtful. “I want them to read it and know that someone is specifically thinking about them,” Johnson said. “It’s all about building them up.”

She said some of her favorite responses to children over the past three years have often been silly, but always sincere. To one child who asked for a baby brother for Christmas, she wrote, “I’ll tell the elves to try, but they are really best at making toys. They may make you a baby out of Lego and Barbie parts.”

To a child who asked for a wolf, “You picked the coolest things for Christmas. The elves now want a wolf, too! Do you think wolves and reindeer will get along? I’m not sure.”

And for one who was feeling a little lonely, “I will tell you, finding a special person can feel really hard, but yours is out there. There is someone who gets you, sometimes it just feels like it takes too long to find them. Hold on, kiddo, you will find your person.”

Johnson thinks her background working in a Topsham school with students with intellectual disabilities has helped in her joint venture with Santa. “In special education, you really have to come up with unique ways to capture interest, or help a kid feel like they’re connected to you,” Johnson said. “I’m used to grasping that sense of wonder.”

Johnson had never received a response to a note she crafted. But when her 15-year-old daughter saw O’Ben’s post on Facebook and forwarded it to her, she cried. The post was liked 300 times and featured a handful of supportive comments on Waterville and Winslow community pages.


Jennifer Johnson responds to letters from children left for Santa Claus at Kringleville in downtown Waterville during the holidays. Johnson, shown crafting a card Wednesday at her home office in Waterville, said she has helped Santa by responding to more than 50 letters that he received. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

But it’s not recognition she’s after. “I just really like kids, their unbridled enthusiasm and beautifulness of thinking,” she said.

Amarinda Keys, executive director of the Children’s Discovery Museum, said writing the letters is a “huge undertaking” that Johnson takes in stride.

“She just writes the most thoughtful, lovely responses to kids,” Keys said.

O’Ben agreed. “It’s just really nice we have someone in the community who’s willing to take the time to do this for children,” she said of Johnson.

Keys said the museum each year sets up a mailbox at Kringleville to collect letters, but the museum also formed a partnership with the Waterville post office. There, postal workers gather any letters kids put in their mailboxes for Santa or Mrs. Claus and hand them over to Santa’s assistants at the museum.

The first letter this holiday season was received in early November. “The kids are very prompt,” Keys said.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.