Santa Claus returned for the 65th time to delight the children of the Greater Boston area in Malden and Melrose’s very own Pine Banks Park. Children of all ages were able to see old Saint Nicholas himself and tell him what they wished for. Parents and kids were all lined up to meet Santa on Saturday, December 20 and Sunday, December 21.
The event ran from 4pm to 8pm both days. Park superintendent John Burgess explained that preparation for the event such as “setting up the lights” and “decorating the house” all take only “around a day.” Even with the afternoon’s chill, kids were patiently waiting for the man in red even before the designated time. One by one, each child entered the temporary abode of Kris Kringle with their families and got the chance to take photos with Santa and tell them what they want for Christmas.
Everyone knows Santa, but the man behind the suit is Richard Keane, a Malden-bred Tewkesbury resident. Keane was able to get the gig through his connections with Burgess, as the two, Keane revealed, “went to school together,” with Burgess even calling Keane “[his] best friend.”
Before Keane, the last Santa was the previous superintendent, Burgess' father. When Burgess took over as park superintendent, he felt being Santa its was just “not for [him],” though he “love[s] seeing the kids” every year. With that, in his first year running the event, he ran into the issue of needing a Santa. That’s when Keane came in and volunteered saying, “I can do it,” happily.
For about 5 years now, Keane takes two days out his year and gives back to the community by donning on the jolly suit and going to Pink Banks to meet the children. Since Keane has “been doing it for so many years now, [he’s] gotten used to being Santa and the responsibilities that come with being Father Christmas. Though, easy as it may now be, “the first year he did it, [he] was very nervous,” since he “didn’t prepare at all,” and “didn’t know what to say to kids.” With time, came experience, and with experience, came comfortability with the persona.
While fun it may be, no work comes without a challenge. Donning on the suit alone “takes about half an hour,” Keane explained. Though, putting on the costume year after year got Keane used to it, and thus a simple matter now. While all the children are excited to meet Santa, some let nerves get the best of them. The biggest challenge of being Santa “is trying to get kids to be comfortable [enough] to talk with [him].” To break the ice between him and the unnerved child, Keane often talks about all sorts of topics ranging from questions like if the child had been good that year to listing off different toys that the child might be interested in.
All in all, Keane happily explains that “being Santa is great,” and that “[he] love[s] it.” Keane says that “just the expressions on the kids’ faces” are what make the experience worthwhile. Nowadays, families tend to flock to the big malls for their Santa visits but Pine Banks presents a wonderful opportunity for the children, as “it’s not like the malls,” since “there’s no charge,” and the experience is “much more personal,” explained Burgess.
While the lines aren’t as long as they used to be, Burgess feels “ that they’re “lucky to be able to get the 200-300 children” that they do get, as he loves seeing the children, to the point that Burgess proudly proclaimed they’d run the event “even if only 1 kid” were to come to see Santa at Pine Banks. Malden is truly appreciative of the work of Keane and Burgess in providing children with a loveable Santa Claus.