It’s early morning at CF Lime Ridge Mall in December. Shops aren’t open yet and few people are around apart from a group of older folks using the hallways as a snow free exercise zone. Slowly employees begin to trickle in and the mall rouses awake for what is sure to be another hectic holiday shopping day. On a bench on the second floor, 82 year old Peter Boxall sits in the sun chatting with fellow octogenarians looking like one of the gang. Apart from a couple of striking natural features he fits right in. Boxall’s gorgeous snow white beard and long curly white hair are conversation starters wherever he goes. His uncanny resemblance to a favourite Christmas personality doesn’t go unremarked at any time of year let alone a month before the big day and today is no exception. Boxall chats and answers questions as he watches for a security guard to unlock the door of an unused retail space nearby. Five days a week from the last week of November through ’til the 24th of December he uses the room to transformation into Santa Claus.
Boxall may argue that it is not so much a transformation as it is him stepping into his finest dress clothes given that he is actually Santa all year round.
For 20 years the retired police officer, soldier, business man has embraced his seasonal job working at local shopping malls leading up to Christmas.
His first experience as Santa was an emergency stand in at the Bronte Harbour Yacht club for a private function. Other private functions followed as well as an eight year stint at the Bramalea City Centre. For the past five years he has worked at Lime Ridge Mall in Hamilton. Somewhere in there Boxall became Canada’s International Santa at the World Santa Congress and now spends summers traveling the world as Santa most recently to Japan and Taiwan in July.
Today, in the seclusion of the empty retail space, Boxall begins his daily preparation applying a bit of rouge to brighten his cheeks. As he works he chats about remarkable moments as Santa.
In the early days he attended the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan (where all the finest Santa’s cut their teeth) to learn the finer points of how to be Santa.
He loves children, he has 5 himself as well as 8 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. He laughs as he tells how he has developed tough shins and knees from being kicked by scared kids in winter boots, or how he encourages excited little girls dressed in their holiday best to twirl for him to show off their outfit before they climb into his lap for a photo. For the most part his approach is quiet. He downplays the loud “ho,ho,ho’s” which he knows often scare children. Instead he approaches them, especially the little ones, in soft tones offering a high five to the reluctant ones before encouraging them to sit on his lap. He takes personal pride when he can coax frightened little ones onto his lap for a visit or a photo.
” You hear everything from kids”, he says “they tell you that Mommy and Daddy don’t live together anymore or that someone is in jail. There are no secrets, those are the hard ones.”
Boxall can empathize, he knows all too well that Christmas is not always the happy time of year it is heralded. Eight years ago on December 24 Boxwall headed off to work. Both he and his wife of 53 years we’re anticipating the usual early end to the day that comes with working Christmas eve. Two hours into the work day he got a call from his son that his wife Barbara had passed away.
For a time following her death Boxwall admits that he was convince he was dying too. It was then that he approached his children and suggested that instead of gifts for Christmas he take them with him to either Norway for the post Christmas Santa Games or to Finland for the Annual Christmas Congress. At the games in Norway he says his oldest son Peter Jr who previously had little to do with the Santa business, became hooked. Dad is obviously delighted. The 48 year old has since followed in his father’s footsteps attending the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School and now works seasonally at the Bramalea City Centre. Both emphasis the importance of a proper Santa education professing “if you’re going to do it right,you’ve got to go to school.” Judging from kids’ reactions -Santa’s doing it right!
Peter Boxall shines up his big brass Santa belt buckle each morning he works. The morning sun shines through high level windows filling the empty retail space with dappled light as Boxall pulls on his big red velvet coat.
Boxall straightens up his belt and large Santa buckle before topping off his suit with his hat. Peter Boxall has been Santa at local malls for the past 20 years. He also represents Canada at the World Santa Congress around the world.
2 year old Sydney Maas was first in line at Lime Ridge Mall to meet Santa and was able to get a quick one on one with the big guy before he was even able to make it to his chair and sit down. Sydney was their with her baby sister Molly to take in story time with Santa and have their Christmas photo taken together. Children gather around Santa as he reads “Twas The Night Before Christmas”, during story time with Santa at Lime Ridge Mall on Monday mornings. 3 year old Arthur Dawson was thrilled to spot Santa as he shopped with his mom Megan.
Unlike some of the young ones, 2 year old Tiffany MacDonald was anything but shy when it came to visiting Santa The little girl ran in and gave Santa giant hug before sitting on his lap and carefully detailing what it was she would like this year for Christmas.
Tiffany MacDonald chats with Santa. When you are one of 10 kid in a family it’s hard to imagine ever being alone let alone with the big guy himself. Here 6 year old Tayveon Ardell has a solitary chat with Santa following the Ardell Christmas family photo.
3 year old Dean Dirani peaks around the corner to get a glimpse at Santa at Lime Ridge Mall. Santa waves to 3 year old Dean Dirani who peaks around the corner to get a glimpse of him.
Story and photos by Cathie Coward/ Hamilton Spectator