Father Christmas of St. Mary's Bay reluctantly retires his suit

     When the St. Mary’s recreation committee held its annual Christmas parade earlier this month, a familiar character was missing. For only the second time in something over 30 years, Kevin Christopher wasn’t available to represent the man from the North Pole with his presence at the parade. The only other time Christopher missed the show was one year when a storm stranded him in St. John’s and he couldn’t make it back to St. Mary’s in time to don the red suit and beard which marked him as Santa’s understudy.
     This year, however, Christopher reluctantly had to retire from the role for good due to a worsening lung problem that is affecting his health.
     “I was at it for a long time and it was something that I truly enjoyed,” says Christopher, 64. “It was with mixed emotions that I had to retire from the Santa Claus parade this year.”
     But Christopher did more than represent the jolly old elf in the parade every December. He also donned the suit to make the rounds at personal care homes in the area to bring cheer to seniors and made countless visits to family homes to make sure the children were preparing to tuck in early for the visit of the real Santa Claus later that night.
     “I would go to as many houses I could get to,” says Christopher. “Some mornings it would be half past 2 before I would get home.”
     Many a time Christopher would do some rounds, come home and change out of the suit for Mass, and then afterwards don the gear to head out again.
     “It was something I truly enjoyed, from the time I first went at it,” says Christopher. “I went everywhere.”
     Christopher’s route took him as far south as Peter’s River and as far north as Riverhead, though St. Mary’s and the Gaskiers were his main stomping grounds. As the population of young people dwindled in the region through the ‘90s and early 2000s, due to people having smaller families and many families moving away to look for work, Christopher found himself venturing further afield to spread his Christmas joy.
     “I have some fine memories,” he says. “And I also ran into a few snarls.”
     The worst “snarl” Christopher got in happened in Peter’s River one night, when a dog took after the man in the red suit and in his hurry to escape, Christopher banged the truck door shut on his thumb. It was Santa’s first call of the evening. Five band aids later, Christopher resumed his rounds, putting the pain out of his mind and enjoying the warm welcomes he found in people’s homes.
     “When I went to Church that evening I had a thumb like Elmer Fudd,” says Christopher, laughing. “A lot of queer old things used to happen over the years.”
Kevin and his wife Cecilia never had children themselves.  “Those were my children,” he says of the many youngsters from infants to those on still hovering on the edge of belief who he visited.
     “They’d tell me all kinds of stuff,” he says. “They would ask about the reindeer and things like that. I’d tell them to go to bed early. Afterwards some parents told me that I wouldn’t be gone through the door and they’d be after taking off to bed.”
     Christopher found himself the recipient of a lot of milk and many cookies over the years. One time, turning away so nobody could see him lift his beard while he ate, a child who was listening to the gulping and crunching coming from the back of the man in the red suit said, “Mommy, Santa is some hungry this year,” Christopher recalls.
     Another time, Christopher managed to restore a child’s faith in Santa Claus. The child was pretty certain that Christopher was posing as Father Christmas and stayed up one evening to try catching him out. Christopher had a friend don the special suit and walk around outside the house as he knocked on the door and paid a call on the family, taking care to ensure the child saw the visitor outside.
     Several years ago, Christopher was approached by a young fellow who seemed pretty worried. “He said, ‘Santa, you’re not going to fine my house this year,’” Christopher remembers. “His family’s home had burned down. “I said, ‘Don’t you worry, Santa knows where you are staying.’”
     It’s memories like that that mean the most, Christopher says.
     Early during his career, Christopher almost managed to almost fool his own mother. Mary Francis Christopher, or Francey, was after moving into a local personal care home. She was the kind of woman who always loved a good laugh, and that’s how Christopher found her one night, at the home, holding court.
     “I told the staff not to let on that it was me,” says Christopher. He went into her room and sat in a chair, being careful not to speak in case she would recognize him. But it was no good. After a little while she addressed him directly by name.
     Some Christmases later, when Francey was stricken with a severe flu, Christopher told her he would stay with her for the night. “She looked at me and said right quick, ‘Kevin, don’t you disappoint those little children.’”
     One Christmas, Christopher was worried all night about a particular visit he had on his list. “It was a young girl who had cancer in her legs,” he says, reckoning the child was about nine years old at the time. “I knew that was going to be the hardest one I would go to that night and I was a bit late getting to her house. I had a lump in my throat as big as an apple.”
     The little girl had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for Santa. Her father woke her when Christopher came in. “She had no hair,” says Christopher. “I spoke to her and gave her a doll.”
     Today that little girl is grown up, Christopher notes happily, and has children of her own.
     Often times, parents would arrange to leave a little gift outside the home for Santa to slip into his bag and present to the child, Christopher says. Many a time too, someone would offer Santa a glass of cheer for his labours. “I never touched a drink or a beer anytime I was out,” Christopher says, “because it was youngsters’ night.”
     Christopher says he is grateful for all the help from his wife Cecila, fondly recalling how chided him for being so particular about his costume and even the food he ate before venturing out each Christmas. Others too are high on Christopher’s “nice” list for helping Santa, including his brothers-in-law Ronnie and Cyril Molloy, and also Todd White, who each sometimes helped out by providing a vehicle on those occasions when Christopher didn’t happen to have one of his own. Shauna Molloy of the recreation committee often helped Santa too as Mrs. Claus.
     “I will miss it,” Christopher admits. “I enjoyed it all and I’d still be at it only for that (lung problem). It’s only because of the health condition that I’m giving it up. There are so many little stories and great memories.”

Posted on December 21, 2015 .