Meet the ‘real’ Santa
For the past nine years 71-year-old retiree and minister at St Margaret’s Church, Charles Jackson has been the face of Christmas at La Lucia Mall.
Charles got his big break to become the ‘man in the red suit’ when the previous Father Christmas, who was due to retire, approached him while he was walking through the mall. “I was called over by the Father Christmas at the time. He told me that I had a better beard than he did (of course his was fake), and said that I should take his place next year.” Charles signed a contact with centre management and took up his spot the following year.
Charles’ daughter-in-law Luci hosts an annual Christmas party for her friends and he made an appearance to get into character for his new role.
“My eldest grandson was nine months old at the time and to this day all three of my grand kids still think that I am the real Father Christmas. My grandson will be nine this year, so it will be interesting to see what he thinks…although in our house we tell the kids that if you don’t believe you won’t receive!”
Charles says he loves keeping the magic of Christmas alive and interacting with children over the holiday period. “Children are so honest! They will come and sit on my lap and tell me not to give mommy a Christmas present this year because she has been naughty or tell me that they asked for a red bicycle last year and I bought them a blue one!”
Often asked if he is the real Father Christmas, Charles uses his beard (which he starts growing on his birthday in June) as proof that he is the real Father Christmas.
“When the children sit on my lap and ask me if I am the real deal, I tell them to pull on my beard and ask them if it is real. Kids tell their parents that they want to meet me, the real Father Christmas, because the ones at the other malls aren’t the real Father Christmas because they have fake beards!”
Families come from as far as Amanzimtoti and Pietermaritzburg every year for their annual photograph with Father Christmas, and Charles says he remembers faces that have come from the beginning.
“A stand-out memory for me was when a seven-year-old orphan sat on my lap one year and, when I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she told me she wanted a mommy and daddy. The following year she came back with her adopted parents. It left a lump in my throat.”
After spending the year working in the church with the elderly who are sick and dying, Charles says he looks forward to being invigorated by the youth at Christmas time.
“My aim is to put Christ back into Christmas and give the magic of belief back to kids – and I always assure them that I know the address at granny’s house when they tell me repeatedly that they will be away this Christmas!”
Q & A with Santa:
How do you deliver all the Christmas presents in one night? My reindeer are very quick!
Do you ever get Christmas presents? Not even Mary Christmas has time to make me a Christmas present!
What do you do in the Summer holidays? Santa doesn’t take a holiday – it takes a whole year to prepare for Christmas!
What is your favourite snack? A glass of milk or cookies or a beer…and don’t forget the carrot for my reindeer!
How many elves do you have? Oh, I have hundreds…and no, I don’t have a favourite!
What happens if children see you in their house? I cough loudly so that they don’t get a black dot on their nose and don’t get any presents.
How old are you? How old do you think I am?
Where are your reindeer when you visit the shopping centre? It is too hot for my reindeer to wait on the roof for me so they drop me off and fetch me when I am finished for the day.
Where to find Father Christmas these holidays:
La Lucia Mall: 12 to 24 December, Monday to Saturday: 10am to 4pm daily, Sundays: 10.30am to 3.30pm.
Ballito Lifestyle Centre: 16 to 24 December, 11am to 2pm.
Tiffany’s Centre: Saturday, 17 December, 9am to 1pm.
Gateway theatre of shopping: 8 to 24 December.