Rewarding time for Brisbane grandfather

Santa's "cousin" Peter at his home Santa's grotto.

By Tania Phillips

Santa Claus is coming to town -and a shopping centre near you – though maybe not in the numbers he is usually seen in.

It seems there is a bit of a Santa shortage in Brisbane and local Airport Transfer company owner Peter McCurley is encouraging anyone interested in taking on what he calls “a rewarding job” not that the veteran “cousin of the real Santa” considers being a Santa a job or a chore.

“It’s very rewarding, all you have to do is be friendly and love kids, you definitely have to love children and make everyone happy – Christmas is the best time of the year,” the affable man with the big white beard explained.

And Peter would know, he’s been wearing the red suit for a while now.

“About 20 years ago I was asked to fill in at an event because the Santa that was going to turn up fell sick,” he said.

“That’s how it all started and I’ve been doing it ever since.

“I love it, it’s great.

“Just seeing the children’s faces and seeing what they have to say. A child’s imagination is a wonderful thing.

“The stories they tell you -sometimes, they’re great stories, sometimes they’re sad, sometimes they ask for things that Santa can’t give them. You never promise a child anything, you always just ask what they wish for – sometimes its great things and sometimes it’s sad things but that’s part of being Santa. Santa’s happy all the time and you’ve got to go along with it.”

Peter said he started playing Santa when he was still in his 30s but he’s has really grown into his job over the years – in fact he says it’s a job where aging is a good thing.

“Yeah, I have literally grown into the job,” he chuckled.

“I don’t need the padding anymore, I’ve got plenty of that there myself,” he adds and if I could see his face I reckon I’d see his eyes twinkle.

“I use to wear a fake beard too but I’ve got my own personal beard now and I go through the pain and agony of getting it bleached out every year. I go down and get that done in early November and then it all starts.”

And it’s a busy time with Peter taking what ever comes along from charity events for sick children, to shopping centres – where-ever he requested to go – he just goes along and does his best to make people happy.

“Sometimes mums and dads cry because their children don’t usually talk to anybody but they’ll talk to Santa – I do pride myself on that. I’m very good with children I think. I’ve actually had mums and dad say their child has never spoken to Santa or sat on Santas knee – you’re amazing. You even make us believe you’re the real Santa – that’s a good thing and makes you feel good.”

So, what does Peter do when he’s not Santa?

“I own my own my own airport transport business ABC Transfers.”

“I get questioned sometimes (in the course of his job). Are you Santa or do you know Santa? Away from the Christmas season I tell people I do know Santa – I’m Santa’s cousin not the real Santa.

“My family love it. My grand children love it when I get dressed up and get photos.”

So, Santa photo’s at Peter’s place are easy, easier than you’d think actually because he and his family create a Christmas light display every year.

“We do Santa photos as well –we have a Santa set in our garage it’s really good,” he enthused.

“The whole family love it, we’re a pretty big Christmas family.

“I lost my daughter to brain cancer 11 years ago. She loved Christmas, she was a massive Santa fan so we carry it on in her memory. That’s why I keep on going.”

With this background, he particularly loves to do charity events and help sick children.

“Some days it can get very, very difficult, Santa is only human, he breaks down,” he said.

“You try not to do that in front of the parents but I’m a big believer that, when there is a sick child, you always give mum or dad a hug – or grandma, aunt or uncle whoever there is there because that’s their final memory sometimes and they have that Santa photo for the rest of their lives.

“Being Santa, what people don’t understand is that when you get a photo taken with Santa, I’m part of that child’s life for the rest of their life. That photo’s always on the fridge or grandma’s fridge until they get older.

“A ninety-nine year old lady sat on my lap last year and that was the first time she’d ever sat on Santa’s lap. She wanted to do it before she passed away. It was an absolute privilege.

“I had a gay couple that came out. They had a sign (in the photo) saying they were getting married and that was the picture they sent to all their family – I felt honoured to do that too.

“Sometimes it really is an honour like that, sometimes you get silly ones, sometimes there are parents who go right over the top – they take 50,000 photos and none of them are good enough because the kid won’t smile.

“It’s interesting, they wee on you, you get poohed on, spewed on but that’s just part of the job. Not that I class it as a job. It’s a privilege to do it.

“And the older you are the better it is.”

“Sure, it’s a busy time of the year but it’s good fun. It can be tiring wearing that suit all day, it gets a little bit warm, being happy and smiling for four or five hours at a time, it gets mentally tough sometimes. Especially when you have children asking if you can bring back grandma and granddad.”

But for all the heartbreaking moments there are plenty of “kids say the darndest things”.

“I had a little kid, about six years old, he came up and I said hello how are you?”

“He said good and asked if I remembered him. I said yes, I do remember you – did you enjoy what I brought you for Christmas last year? And he said – well Santa I came and seen you and I asked for a pushbike and cart and you didn’t bring them.

“I’m sorry but I brought you something, did you enjoy that?

“Yes, I did, but this year Santa if you just give me a $5,000 gift card I can go shopping and buy my own stuff – that’s all I require.

“The mum looked at me and she just about fell over backwards. He wanted a $5,000 credit card to buy his own presents because I didn’t bring him what he wanted,” he laughed.

“I also had a kid ask for 10 head of cattle for his farm. I said how am I going to put 10 head of cattle in the sleigh? They’ll fight with Rudolph, the sleigh will crash. How am I supposed to get 10 head of cattle in there. And he looked at me and said that’s not my problem Santa, that’s your problem. Over the 20 years the children have changed -still barbie dolls and Lego – that’s very popular but now it’s Ipads, Iphones, motor bikes -it’s amazing how things have changed over the years.

“But Santa photos are still very popular, Santa is still very popular. I just tell the ones that don’t believe in Santa but just remember the magic of Christmas is all about family and friends. The older kids go – yeah you are right Santa.”

Peter gets other people to drive for him in his day job as Christmas approaches.

“This is my time off, I enjoy doing this,” he said.

“At the end of the day it’s a very rewarding thing to do, to see kids smile and cry and walkaway happy. Particularly when you’ve finished talking to a child and they walk away and look back – I just give them a wink, they love it.”

For more information about becoming a Santa head to www.therealsanta.com.au.

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