The Hamilton Spectator
Father, son take their Santa duties seriously
With a twinkle in his eye and his official Santa certification hanging on the wall behind him, it’s hard — even for a grown, cynical adult — not to wonder if Burlington’s Peter Boxall might be the real deal.
But sitting on the couch across from him, his son Peter Boxall Jr. is decked out in an equally convincing Santa suit.
Both are certified graduates of the Charles W. Howard Santa School in Michigan (named after the original Santa in the Coca-Cola ads).
“If you’re going to do it right, you’ve got to go to school,” they say, practically in unison.
Eighty-year-old Boxall Sr. got his start at the Bronte Harbour Yacht Club 20 years ago when the hired Santa was a no-show. With a shrug, Boxall offered to step in and fill those boots.
Two decades later, he is the Santa. His charm is magical.
His full, white beard is the first clue — people will stop him for photos with Santa even in the summertime, he chuckles. But December is his true time to shine, when hundreds of children line up for a chance to sit on his knee and give them their wish lists.
This year, he’s stationed at Lime Ridge Mall. For eight years before, he was at the Bramalea City Centre. It’s a tiring duty, but he lives for it.
He chuckles, recalling a tiny girl who asked him this year for a tablet. He teases the kids, pretending to mix up their high-tech requests for fruits (apples and blackberries). But it’s not all fun and games. He’s had children tell him about parents who have just passed away, or who are battling a terminal illness.
“You want to be soft and gentle but the emotions run so deep,” he says.
He loves kids — he’s a dad to five, a grandpa to eight and a greatgrandpa to four.
He’s travelled the world as Mr. Claus — with jaunts this year alone to Norway, Japan and the Caribbean for various Santa functions.
Certificates from Santa programs around the world line the front hall of his Burlington home, from Kyrgyz, Bakken, Scandinavia, Russia, Estonia, Germany, Finland, Nevada, Michigan, Greenland ... he has Santa pals all over the world.
The whole house is festive. His newly-renovated, cherry red kitchen looks like it’s straight out of the North Pole. He drives a cherry red SUV to match.
Boxall Jr., 46, never had any desire to follow in his dad’s Santa footsteps. But he tagged along to Norway this past January for the annual ‘Santa Chill-out’— an international gathering of 120 or so Santas — as an opportunity to relax after the hectic Christmas season. And he was hooked. The two of them went to Santa School this year (and were interviewed for This Hour Has 22 Minutes) and Peter Jr. has spent a good $2,500 perfecting his suit.
A recent viral YouTube video of a group of Santas fighting on a New York City street is perfect evidence of why professional, accredited Santas are needed, the younger Boxall points out.
In Santa School — a three-day workshop — they teach Santas-tobe everything from how to talk to shy children, to perfecting the ‘ho ho ho’— a gentle chortle is favoured over a boisterous yell.
While Dad’s beard is the real thing (he’s Santa all year round, he reminds me), Junior has a custom wig and beard. And while Dad’s suit is more classic Santa, Junior opted for the Coca-Cola Santa look.
The other day (he is doing corporate gigs this year before hitting the mall) a boy, about 8 or 9, asked him for world peace.
“You’re always prepared for it in the back of your mind. How am I going to answer this one?” Junior says.
The whole thing is about making the kids believe. Santa has the ability to make a kid’s day — or year, they say.
“You talk to them. They’ll tell you who’s Santa’s helper and who’s real … they know,” Peter Sr. says with a smile.
“They’ll walk away saying, ‘This is it, I got the real guy.’ My heart just skips a beat when they tell me that.”