Final day for mall Santa

A few tears likely on Santa Ollie's last day

CHARLES ANDERSON
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2013
Santa Ollie [Stuart Oliver] with elf helpers Lily Barrowcliffe, 9, and Hannah Wakelin, 12
STACY SQUIRES/Fairfax NZ

SANTASTIC STRATEGY: Santa Ollie [Stuart Oliver] with elf helpers Lily Barrowcliffe, 9, and Hannah Wakelin, 12, doing his last season as Santa after 23 years spreading some Christmas cheer

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Santa Ollie was running a few minutes late. He packed his car keys into his sack and swung it over his shoulder.

"Ready elves? Stay together."

And with that Stuart Oliver, 50, and his two elves, aged 12 and 9, walked out of a holding room at Barrington Mall and into the rush of Christmas commerce.

It was a routine he had gone through for the past 23 years. Each and every July he would stop shaving. He would stop cutting his hair. Then, a few weeks out from Christmas, a salon would bleach his light brown beard.

It began one day in 1990 when he was volunteering at a hospital during Christmas and the Santa, who was meant to tend the children in the ward, fell sick himself.

"Right, you are Santa," he was told. And he's been Santa Ollie ever since, for so long that he doesn't go by his given name - Stuart Oliver. Even to his teenage children he's just "Ollie".

"It's the magic," he said. "I love it every year."

Over the years he had been a bus driver and filled his spare time writing movie scripts and tele-plays. But Christmas had been his constant.

There were children who asked for the usual - toys or pets. Parents would give him a knowing nod to say whether that wish would come true.

Then there were the kids who asked for the impossible - for their parents to get back together or their house to be rebuilt.

Some wanted to live with their grandparents, others wanted all their family to be together for the holidays. Santa Ollie would again look to the parents and the knowing nod was often replaced by a knowing shake.

He would then explain to the child that Santa, despite his magic, was just a toymaker. He delivered toys.

Santa Ollie would have loved to stay for 25 years, but recently had some bad news about his health.

On Christmas Eve, his final day in the job, there would likely be a few tears.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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