When Jim Pascoe emerged from Isel House dressed as Santa at the Isel Park Twilight Market on a late December night, he had barely taken a dozen steps before swarms of kids came barrelling up to him.
Fortunately, he knows the drill – Santa is a role Jim has played for more than five decades.
It started when he was just 18-years-old. A department store in Whangarei needed a Santa and he says he “didn’t have to be dared twice” before accepting the role. Although the suit needed plenty of padding to fill it out, his enthusiasm made up for it.
“They reckon I was the best Santa they ever had.”
And so began a 57-year tradition.
These days the suit doesn’t need to be filled up with pillows and the beard isn’t fake, but Jim says he still gets plenty of pleasure out of playing the role.
“I just love and enjoy making happiness for families. If I can make one child’s day, I’ve done something.”
Most of Jim’s years as Santa have been in Whangarei but the last couple of Christmas’s has been here in Nelson. He says the big crowds don’t worry him too much but there are a couple of tricks of the trade.
“I always ask what the lolly situation is, if they don’t have lollies, I won’t do it – for my own safety’s sake.”
He says asking kids what they want for Christmas can also be a delicate situation.
“You have to be so careful. If I say ‘tell Santa what you’d like?’ and the wee fella says ‘I’d like a new bike’, I’ve got one eye on the parent all the time. If the parents says ‘no’ and I say ‘yes’ you’re in trouble. So, it’s not as simple as people think.”
While new technology is making the choice for Christmas presents abundant, Jim says the requests are still quite traditional.
“This year it really surprises me because the boys want trucks, Lego, slime, trains and the girls want unicorns, princesses, fairies, mermaids, and they both want Harry Potter and board games.”
He says he has plenty of great stories from over the years. One was when a lady with six kids visited one year.
“She was all worn out and the kids were scratchy, but after a few minutes with us they were all happy and she bounced out of there. I was really nice to see such a turnaround.”
The second wasn’t as heart-warming.
“One Christmas I came across five teenage girls and I said ‘ho ho ho what would you like for Christmas’. One of these girls looked at me and the tears started to drip out of her eyes and she said ‘Santa, could you please put my mum and dad back to together, just for Christmas’. Well, Santa had to turn around and have a wee moment.”
Jim says he’ll continue to play Santa for as long as his health holds up and this year was joined at the Isel Park Twilight Market by his wife Molly, who played Mrs Claus.
Jim hopes they’ll both be back next year – and so do the children of Nelson.