Musings of the grand old man

Gavin Knight has been a Santa every Christmas for 40 years. Photo: John Borren.

Gavin Knight’s personal Santa story sounds as fanciful as the legend of the fat, bearded bloke in the red suit itself.

Consider this. Gavin’s been a Santa every Christmas for 40 years.

His father was a Santa, as too was his grandfather and great grandfather.

Santa-ing goes back five ‘greats’ in the Knight family.

“Historically Santas to just family, friends, neighbours and villages.”

Nothing like the hundreds, perhaps thousands, which this modern day Santa draws to his Bethlehem Town Centre grotto each year.

“Our Santa-ing goes back all the way to Charles Dickens himself.”

That’s right, he claims the literary genius, who penned the 1843 novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ – the glorious tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, and the power of change and redemption – was his fifth great-grandfather.

That’s a significant name to drop.

And Dickens, the social critic, might have been chuffed that Gavin, the Bethlehem Town Centre Santa, is keeping the legend and the family tradition alive.

“Of course, Father Christmas had been around before that.

"But the fat, white-bearded, red-suited Santa people today know and love, started with


Charles Dickens – Gavin’s great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

A proud lineage - Gavin ‘Santa’ Knight with a photo of his ‘Santa’ Dad. ‘Santa’ Knights track all the way back to Charles Dickens apparently. Photo: John Borren

A man consumed 

Gavin Knight is a man consumed by Santa.

He signs off a text to The Weekend Sun reporter with ‘Santa’, and when his phone goes off it’s “Ho, ho, ho” and there’s that Santa sign by his front door.

“Santa occupies me every day, thinking up new stuff and storing Santa ideas away for Christmas.”

It’s easily explained – he just adores the story and the spirit of Christmas.

It’s as if he’s been ordained to be Santa. 

Anyhow Gavin is about to slip on his natty, bespoke red reindeer waistcoat and Santa hat, get some serious professional styling on that ten-month festoon of salt and pepper whiskers and psyche himself up for another month-long Santa gig at the Bethlehem Town Centre.

Seven days a week, nine hours a day, living breathing Santa, just Gavin listening to young dreams.

“The world is a damaged, troubled and tough place.

"But I tell the kids: “It’s okay to dream; it’s okay to hope.

"Then take the dreams and hope and write your own story…”

What makes Gavin a good Santa?

“The fact you could pull on his beard and it wouldn’t come off,” says Bethlehem Town Centre’s marketing manager Dan Weck.

“Everything is authentic, from his suit to his curled moustache and his genuine excitement to make every child’s visit a special one.”

Dan often hears kids say: “That’s the real Santa”.

Except one young upstart, who was about to blow Gavin’s cover.

He declared straight up that Gavin wasn’t for real, that he was a stand-in for the main man.

Always expecting the unexpected, Gavin was equally straight up.

“You could be very right about that.”

Gavin ‘Santa’ Knight feeding young dreams at Bethlehem Town Centre. Tug on the whiskers, tweak the moustache, he’s for real. That’s part of the charm. Photo: Bethlehem Town Centre.

The magic

When their time had finished, the boy had changed his mind.

“I know you are real,” he told Gavin.

He and Santa hugged and the mother was in tears.

“He just wanted to believe in Christmas, and the magic of it all.”

One young girl was expecting magic, the impossible.

“She had recently lost her Dad, and all she wanted for Christmas was to have him back.”

It was an awkward moment.

So Santa told her to put her hand on her chest and feel the ‘boom, boom, boom’.

“That’s the love in your heart for your Dad.

"Then I asked if her dad put his hand on his heart, would he feel his love for her?”

She said: ‘Yes’.

“Well, that never goes away,” he told her.

“I can’t bring Dad back but I can tell you his love is always there.”

She bought that idea and ordered a doll for Christmas instead.

Santa was pretty close to “blubbing out”.

He closed the door and put up his ‘Feeding the reindeer – back in five minutes’ sign.

He needed to loosen his belt and have a cup of tea.


That’s why the Bethlehem Town Centre’s already getting inquiries, as it does every year.

“Is it the same Santa this year?” says Dan.

Yes, it is.

And people keep coming back.

There might also be a few misconceptions about children and their expectations at Christmas, judging from the experience of one Gavin ‘Santa’ Knight.

“Surprisingly, expectations are simple.

"What kids most want is time – time with Mum and Dad and whoever else is important to them.

"They get really excited at the prospect of spending good time with people who they care about.”

A present that can’t be wrapped and costs nothing.

“It’s wonderfully reassuring,” says Santa.

This Santa started out as an apprentice in his early-20s.

“You are a gnome – or an elf – for a while.

"You observe, listen; soak it up.
"What’s good and what’s not.”

Forty years later he “still loves doing it”.

Santa will be at Bethlehem Town Centre from December 2 through to Christmas Eve.

On Boxing Day Gavin will shave off the beard and come March, the Santa process starts over.

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