In Ringsend, a Winter Wonderland Goes Pro

Last year, Santa Claus had a spectacular arrival on a boat to the kids at the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre’s annual Christmas event, Santa’s Magic Wonderland.

It was a grand entrance, said Jennifer Betts, the centre’s public relations officer, in the centre’s café on Sunday. Until Santa’s boat reached the dock.

As she tells the story, kids potter around her holding balloons and chocolate trays.

“The gate was locked. And we’d no one to open the gate. So the kids were like, why is Santy in jail, why is he out there?” she says. “We were like, Oh God.”

When Santa finally got around the dock, some kids thought he was Andrew Donohue, a staff worker at the centre. “I think it’s the voice,” says Betts, reflecting.

Lorainne Barry, the centre’s manager, in a red Santa hat next to her, said it was very funny. “We were like what, no, it’s Santy! You are just confused!”

It was the same a few years before then, when kids thought Santa was actually Betts’ late father, Brian, who was nicknamed Bettsy.

“Little kid comes in, ‘Hi Bettsy’,” laughs Betts. “We can’t go anywhere!”

Then, another year, kids took Santa for someone called Mick.

Outside the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre on Sunday was a gazebo with a live band. Stalls sold Christmas cakes, Lego figures, and framed paintings. An Elvis impersonator milled around among the locals who had come out for this year’s Santa’s Magic Wonderland.

Santa isn’t mistaken for anyone the kids know anymore, says Barry.

The centre has gotten funding from Dublin City Council to help pay for the wonderland set-up, she says.

“It’s broadened out from just one small room for Santa to all of this today. It’s a celebration of Christmas as a whole,” she says.

Christmas lights and glowing reindeer lead up the stairs of the centre, towards a room with strings of lights and winter animals and a twinkling tree.

One-and-a-half-year-old Sally McEvoy totters towards the door of a grotto covered in red Christmas wrapping paper at the back of the room.

“Hello, hello…” comes a booming voice inside the grotto. “Take your time, there’s lots of time.”

Two people, sitting wrapped up in layers of red and white clothes perfect for a cold wintery place, welcome Sally inside to the pink glow.

“On the count of three, we’re going to say, ‘silly sausages’,” says Santa Claus, gesturing to Sally and her mother Fiona McEvoy to sit next him and the tree, as their photo is taken.

“One, two, three…” and the five exclaim in unison, “Silly sausages!!”

“Oh my goodness,” says McEvoy, helping Sally as she clutches a chocolate tray, toddle out into the room, wide eyes looking around at the coloured lights and penguins.

“She doesn’t really know what Santa is really about yet,” says McEvoy. “This is her first year of bringing her somewhere properly, for Santa.”

Seeing Santa was exciting, says Alicia Iyoka, chewing on the tail of a purple balloon animal. She has her Christmas list thought up. “A barbie doll, slime and chocolate.”

She’s been hopping from stool to stool in another room in the centre with her friend Hannah Hogan, their opened chocolate trays cast off to one side.

“Mrs Claus and Santy was there,” says Hannah, smiling and tucking in her chin. “I didn’t say that much.”

Alicia’s looking around the room. “I don’t even know if he’s the real Santa,” she says suddenly. “Because… because… because his shoes didn’t look really like the real Santa. They were brown, they had stripes.”

Santa wouldn’t wear shoes like that? Alicia shakes her head, and hops off to continue playing.

Santa on his way to find a cup of tea. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

“It is the red suit,” says Colette Hogan, standing in line to keep place for Hannah to get face paint. “We did a Santy last week, and that wasn’t the real Santy, apparently, so I don’t know if this Santa’s was the real one.”

It’s hard to know what sparked that thought, she says.

Tracey Ntela, Alicia’s mother, sits patiently on a high stool.

“I really came for her, because she wanted to meet Santy,” she says. “She had fun, she got the picture, she got chocolate and the balloon. So she’s quite happy.”

Santa says he’s heard of impersonators. Dressing up as him, and meeting kids in shopping centres, schools or community centres around the world.

“There’s lots of people that try to help Santa by doing that,” says Mrs Claus, leaning in and looking up over the rim of her glasses at Santa. “Because you are so busy.”

“I, you see, I’m so busy,” says Santa, holding his hands out wide, and then settling them on his lap. “Sometimes people step in for me, but I always now come to Ringsend, because the children are so good.”

“But now you’re able to get around more,” says Mrs Claus, nodding. “I came because the children are so nice. Santa said, you have to meet them!”

“Mrs Claus, she pretends to be an actress,” says Santa, glancing at her. “How many years are we married now?”

“I was asked that, I said nine hundred and ninety-nine million,” said Mrs Claus, chuckling. “Or, forty.”

Since November, the pair have been visiting different grottos around Dublin, sitting patiently to greet child after child, to varying responses.

Says Mrs Claus: “It’s just such a joy – some of them get really, really excited. Some of the smaller ones are always afraid.”

Sometimes kids don’t want to come into Santa’s grotto, she says. “You don’t force them because this can be a terrible memory for a child, you know, to be terrorized like that. I always say, take it easy.”

“You’ve to be careful if a child starts asking for very impossibly big things,” she says.

Santa brings his voice down to a whisper. “We just tell them we’ll be coming back on Christmas Eve. This is just a flying visit, and that you have to be in bed asleep.”

Santa gets to his feet, stretching out after a long time sitting, for a cup of tea in the centre’s kitchen. “I just want to throw a little water on the head,” he says.

They’re off to Sandymount now, making their way downstairs to their white car outside. “Hello, Mrs Claus!” a group of kids call out in the café.

“We need to keep some spirit of integrity and innocence in the world. It’s about integrity, I think. We all get to be children again, at Christmas,” she says, bustling down the hallway.

“We walk up the road talking to each other,” she says, “as Mr and Mrs Santa.”

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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