Rumour has it, Collingwood’s Santa Claus has a sweet spot for a certain kind of cookie.
So, if you plan to leave holiday treats out for the holly jolly fellow this Christmas Eve, you might solidify your spot on the Nice List if those cookies include white chocolate and macadamia nuts.
“As far as milk is concerned, I don’t care if it is white or chocolate,” laughed Bill Nicholson, the man behind the beard and red suit.
Nicholson has been Collingwood’s Santa Claus for over 25 years.
Each November, Nicholson digs out his Santa suits — both an indoor and outdoor version — and gets ready to bring on the festive cheer. It takes him about 25 minutes to get geared up, beard, big belly and all.
Normally, he makes his first appearance aboard the final float in the Collingwood Christmas parade in November, with the following weeks filled with visits to nursing homes, community organizations, staff parties and private events. He would spend every Saturday sitting in Santa’s sleigh at Town Hall with two real, live reindeer by his side, greeting children and families from all over.
Last year, Nicholson said he had approximately 54 visits in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
“As you can see, I have lots of fun,” Nicholson smiled. “I get people of all ages sitting on my knee. I love watching both the kids and the parents’ reactions.”
With COVID-19 causing an ongoing threat to the community, Nicholson's Santa work looked a little different this year. Although the parade was cancelled and Santa wasn’t able to make most private visits possible, he was still able to sit in his sleigh.
“But even the downtown visits changed so much,” said Nicholson.
Santa’s sleigh moved from town hall to in front of the federal building. There was a Plexiglass partition installed to safely separate him from his visitors. Rain and shine, Santa sat in the sleigh smiling every Friday night and Saturday afternoon in December.
“It’s hard, not being able to hold the newborns or have the children sit on my lap,” he said. “But kids are really resilient. They weren’t upset that there was Plexiglass between them or that Santa wasn’t holding them, they were just happy to come down and say hi.”
During his 25 years receiving children's Christmas wishes, Nicholson has learned to read and remember children pretty well.
“I can predict the screamers when they come up,” he laughed. “I say to the parents ‘Okay, back the child in, set them on my knee and jump back and snap the picture real fast because you only have ten seconds.’”
A lot of children are really nervous, Nicholson said. No matter how excited they are beforehand, some shut down as soon as they sit on Santa’s lap. Others run right up and knock him over in excitement.
And over the years, Nicholson said he has heard it all. Children have asked him for everything from electronics and Barbies to peace on earth. He gets a kick out of the kids who ask for live animals as their parents frantically shake their head no in the background.
“You just have to look at the children and say, 'well, sometimes Santa brings you exactly what you asked for. Other times, he brings you the things you need instead,'” said Nicholson.
He specifically remembers one year when one little girl asked him for wings. Her grandmother had recently passed away, and the girl wanted to make sure she had wings so she could get to heaven.
All a choked-up Santa could mutter back was, “I am sure if your grandma is as good of a girl as you are, then she already has them, and she is already there.”
“You get a lot of good stories like that,” said Nicholson. “You look into some of these little girl’s eyes and they believe you’re the one, and it just melts your heart.”
Along with his gig as Santa Claus, Nicholson is also known for the bright and festive light display he has at his house every year.
Although he does his best to slip in and out of his house in the Santa suit unnoticed, Nicholson said one year, a young boy started to notice Santa come home every Saturday.
One day the boy looked at his dad and said: "I know why Mr. Nicholson has all those decorations… Because Santa stays at his house at Christmas."
“I have the best job in the world,” he added.
Santa Claus has been deemed an essential service this year by Premier Doug Ford.
“I want to remind all of the children that parades may have been cancelled, events may have been cancelled and grandma and grandpa might not be able to visit… But Santa will be there Christmas Eve regardless," said Nicholson. "So put out your milk and cookies, go to bed early, and get ready on Christmas morning to wake up to a wonderful surprise.”
As for Nicholson, once his duties as Santa are done, his favourite thing to do is spend quality time with his own family.