Dedicated professional Santa Ian Loxton is ready to suit up in his intricate hand-made costume with all the bells and whistles, ready to spread Christmas cheer to some of those who need it most.
Adelaide’s real life Santa suits up for Christmas
After he buttons up his intricate hand-made jacket, slips on his gloves, hat and bell-adorned boots, Ian Loxton says to himself: “this is the last suit you’ll ever wear”.
It’s a Men in Black movie reference; a joke that the 71-year-old grandfather and professional Santa says to help him get into character before making one of his many appearances at shopping malls, community centres, schools and even airports during the festive season.
“Santa is not just a man in a red suit, it’s about what’s in his heart,” says Ian, who is a professional Santa with nearly 20 years’ experience as St Nick, believing that the character embodies love, hope and joy, rather than any particular religious belief.
“I firmly believe there is a Santa somewhere, perhaps not on earth, and that’s who I try to present in the best possible way. The suit changes me.”
Santa Ian has an impressive resume. He’s been employed by a major theme park and resort in Japan, a winter festival at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, and for two years he was the Santa for the Sydney International Airport departures terminal farewelling folks departing for other countries.
But Ian says it’s the paid jobs like those that allow him to do the volunteer appearances that he loves most.
His most magical visits often happen on Christmas morning when, as a volunteer Santa, he visits the children’s ward of the Lyell McEwin Hospital to brighten spirits.
The global pandemic and its Covid restrictions have made visiting wards difficult in recent years, but, finally, Ian is back in action.
Although he won’t be visiting the hospital this year, SALIFE tagged along with Ian last Christmas.
As he approaches the hospital entrance, Ian can’t avoid attention with his bells ringing loudly with each step. Heads quickly poke around doors and adults greet him as if he’s an old friend, to which he is ever-prepared with friendly banter and jokes that roll off the cuff. “I’m sorry, you just haven’t been good enough this year,” he quips with a laugh to a hospital deliveryman.
“Some of the best fun I’ve had is stirring up the adults – it reminds them of when they were young and looking forward to Santa visiting. I’m here for children of all ages,” he says.
It’s when he arrives at the children’s ward that the magic happens. “Some kids can’t go home for Christmas Day, so I visit the ward in the morning and get the day started right. Sometimes there are tears, but most of the time it’s smiles. It is fun and it brightens their day,” says Ian.
Ian’s turn as Santa started in 2003 when wife Margaret suggested he answer an ad in the newspaper calling for Father Christmases, which led to a department store training day with several other Santas. Ian was taught all the important basics and an all-consuming interest in Father Christmas had begun. “It gave me a good grounding and then, when you sit in the chair, you begin to learn what you didn’t know,” he says.
Margaret taught him how to sew and he’s since made several different suits, including his current garb which is immaculately embroidered with gold-coloured stitching; he looks the part.
Through one of many international Santa groups that he’s involved with online, Ian procured a mentor in one of America’s leading Santas who eventually convinced him to grow his beard. Ian has since become a mentor to others and is an unofficial Santa historian with a deep interest in the genealogy of Father Christmas whose lineage can be traced back to early European history.
“We loosely call it a brotherhood of the red,” says Ian, who has Santa and Mrs Claus friends in many countries. They share knowledge, relate their experiences and learn from each other. There is even a Santa Claus Oath for which Ian played a small part in writing.
“I’m currently working with a Santa in the UK because he found out that I’d had a stroke and he’d had a stroke, too. With the season about to start, we’ve had our warning and we need to look out for one another and ourselves,” he says.
Ian is often disappointed when parents comment on his appearance as a “skinny Santa” and believes the popular image of Santa is an unhealthy one that needs to be changed. He’ll often reply that Mrs Claus has put him on a diet with no cookies until Christmas.
“I’m only 70-something kilos and what you see is what you get. Health is a major topic in the Santa world because so many are prone to the effects of ageing and lifestyle,” he says.
“My favourite Santa film ever made is the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street, in which Santa is not much different in weight and height to me. It wasn’t until after that period that Hollywood started changing the image of Santa.
“We’re fighting against it. Several Santa groups have pledged to work together to help each other to lose weight and change the image. It’s unhealthy to carry so much weight just because others expect it of you.”
It wasn’t until Ian was well and truly on his Santa journey that he learned, serendipitously, that Father Christmas was in his DNA all along. When he was growing up in Normanville and Yankalilla, Ian’s father was the local Santa for many years. But Ian didn’t know any of this.
“I’d sit on his lap, not knowing it was him, telling him what a good boy I’d been. He knew that I certainly hadn’t been. He passed away in ’99 and it wasn’t until one day in about 2005 that Mum asked me if I wanted Dad’s suit. I said, ‘What, his grey one?’ She said: ‘No, his red one’. I didn’t know; those in the family who knew just never happened to tell me.”
His father’s suit now hangs in his wardrobe, alongside his own. “It has changed me, especially once I started growing the beard in 2005. It’s become part of me and affects everything I do,” says Ian.
Being Santa is not all joy – you’re constantly on show as a performer and under the scrutiny of the public eye. It’s a tiring job, but worth it to see the wonder on the faces of children when they meet this magical character in person.
“I find that three hours of being bright and cheery is the same as an eight-hour day of normal work,” says Ian. “But if they look back to their parents and say, ‘it’s the real Santa, mum,’ that’s when I know I’ve done my job.”
This article first appeared in the December 2022 issue of SALIFE magazine.
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