With the holiday season upon us and Christmas approaching soon, a professional Santa Claus from England shares his experience and tips for parents to make their family visit to Santa this year a truly memorable one.
“Henley Santa,” Michael Facherty, 70, who resides in Reading, UK, has been a professional Santa for the past 35 years after he initially played the role at his children’s school Christmas fair.
“I really liked it,” Facherty told The Epoch Times. From then until he retired about 10 years ago from his job as a business analyst, he was an occasional Santa for school fairs and Christmas parties at work for staff members’ children.
However, after his retirement, Facherty decided to be more of Santa since he enjoyed it.
“It’s so lovely that people come up and they’re happy to see you,” Facherty said. “When I retired, I thought I could do this more, and I signed up with a couple of agencies, and then started working in a grotto.”
Luckily for Facherty, the beard came naturally. He said that he’s had a beard since he was 19. However, with his role as Santa, Facherty has been growing it longer.
Facherty, who usually covers most of Berkshire and some parts of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire as a Santa, shared that, before the pandemic, he would usually spend 10 hours at a grotto and be visited by hundreds of children. Describing his days in detail, he said he usually waited at the grotto until his elf Jingle Berry brought him a child.
“I’d chat with the child, get them to remind me what they wanted for Christmas, and check whether they were going to be home or away at Christmas, and then give them a present,” Facherty said.
However, in the last two years, he hasn’t been at the grotto due to the pandemic and instead spent much more time visiting kids at their doorstep depending on their quarantine situation.
Last year, Facherty recalls he only took zoom calls because doorstep visits were also blocked out. However, this year, on the first Sunday of December, he took six home visits, bringing the holiday excitement to kids who hadn’t seen Santa for more than a year.
On his visits, Facherty presents kids with picture books that he himself has written and a nice certificate that details all things they have been good at during the year.
For Facherty, the best part of being Santa over these years is that he gets to make people happy and create memories.
“I think it’s wonderful when you see a child’s face light up, and their parent’s face lighting up at the same time,” Facherty said. “It’s just lovely … people are so happy when they’re seeing Santa.”
Sharing some of his good memories as a Santa, Facherty said that in one of his visits to the grotto, he had a family where the children, mothers, grandmother, and great grandmother visited him. The latter was so happy that she even took a picture with Santa and he even gave her a present.
In another visit to the grotto, Facherty recalls that he was told by elf Jingle Berry that the girl visiting him wouldn’t make eye contact with him. So even though Facherty tried to interact with her normally during her visit, giving her a lovely Rudolph reindeer soft toy, she refused to take it. However, on her way out the door of the grotto, the little girl turned back and ran to Facherty hugging him, saying, “I love you, Santa.”
“The mom was crying and I was crying. And I think Jingle Berry was crying,” Facherty said. “What happened was the power of Santa, I guess.”
Over the years being Santa, Facherty never tells kids about all the naughty things they have done, since he believes he’s not the parents’ police. However, he always comforts worried kids who think they’re on the naughty list.
Apart from all the amazing memories that Facherty creates for kids, being Santa, he says, comes with some challenges, especially when kids request that they want their father who died or left home to return back for Christmas, as this makes him feel helpless since he can’t really do anything about it.
However, some challenges yield wonderful results. One experience that Facherty remembers clearly was when he once visited a school as Santa and a little girl expressed her heartfelt desire to see her sister’s child. However, due to a dispute between her sister and her mother, the girl was unable to see the newborn. So Facherty advised the little girl to explain to her mother that her sister loved her and Father Christmas would like the family to be reunited.
Unexpectedly, he received a letter from the teacher in the following January, stating: “I don’t know what you said. But she spent Christmas with her sister back home visiting.”
This Christmas as families visit Santa, Facherty has some tips for parents taking their kids to the grotto:
- Don’t get into too much formality visiting Santa.
- Don’t pressurize kids to sit on Santa and have a big smile in order to get the perfect picture. Instead, one of the best pictures can be captured when the child and Santa make direct face-to-face contact.
- Don’t pressurize older children who are shy to meet Santa.
- Lastly, check the reviews of the Santa you hire or the grotto you visit before you take your kids.