By Jed Lanyon
This year Santa is swapping out the milk and cookies for a burger and a beer as he visits Seville’s Branded Burgers and Bar for Christmas family photos.
Santa would usually spend December at Chirnside Park Shopping Centre but was unable to carry out that role this year. Thankfully Branded saved the day by booking out the shop next door to the restaurant, allowing Yarra Valley locals to come get a picture with Santa.
Speaking to Star Mail, Santa said he was “overwhelmed” with the support from the community as his photo bookings were snapped up and sold out within 24 hours.
“It’s great to be here, I’m really enjoying it and it’s nice to have a home again. I thought I was going to have to stay home and clean up and get fit and then Gina came to the rescue.
“I used to be at Chirnside Park and I had a wonderful time at Chirnside but things didn’t work out there and I ended up leaving.
“I’d like to thank everyone for what they’ve done… Thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. I’ve had wonderful support from everyone and I thank them very much.”
Locals were shocked and saddened to hear that they wouldn’t be able to get a picture with ‘the real Santa’, to the point where a petition was created, gaining over 2000 signatures.
Branded Burgers co-owner Gina Braidner said it’s about the same amount of bookings Santa would take on this December, with the profits of the photos to be donated to four charities.
“We wanted them all to be children’s charities being close to Christmas,” Ms Braidner said.
The charities to benefit from the project will be A Better Life For Foster Kids, Backpacks 4 Vic Kids, Healesville’s Good Life Farm and Heartkids.
“We were booked out within 24 hours and had to extend some extra hours and they booked out within 30 minutes.”
Santa has a long history of taking photos with Yarra Ranges locals.
“I’ve been doing it for 17 years, and I was at Chirnside for about seven years and we probably sold a million dollars worth of photos. So I’ve got a lot of fans out there. People have come from all over Australia to see Santa.”
One family makes an annual trip from Byron Bay just to see Santa, while another family brought their blue tongued lizard for him to hold.
“I said, ‘surely you didn’t come just to see Santa?’ and they said it was the main reason. They used to live here and now they come back and stay with friends to come and get their Santa photos.”
Santa said he had even been invited to the wedding of a family who had taken photos with him.
“You get wonderful connections with people, me and my photographer got invited to one of our clients weddings. We had gotten to know her over a few years and were invited to a wedding.”
But he said he wouldn’t be dressed in his usual attire.
“I thought I’d better go in disguise.”
Kara from Gladysdale said a photo with ‘the real Santa’ had been an annual event for her children, Harpa and Phoenix for eight years now.
“We were a bit disappointed when we found out he wasn’t going to be at Chirnside, so when I saw it come up on the Branded Burgers Facebook page, I kept an eye out and I was straight onto booking it.
“These days it’s so hard to keep the magic of it alive, to keep the same person in the photo makes it such a better tradition.”
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Santa assured that he’d still be coming to deliver gifts this year and had a positive take on a family Christmas photo featuring face masks.
“Santa will still be coming, Rudolph and the rest of the reindeers are really looking forward to it. Here, things will be a little bit different, there’ll be a bit of social distancing and the wearing of masks.
“It’s a bit unusual but people will be able to spot that photo in 15 years and know exactly what year it is.
“What Santa wants for Christmas is a normal Christmas, same as everyone. If we can just have a normal Christmas with our families it’s going to be fantastic.”