Acting on a tip-off, Courier chief reporter Claire Allison headed to Fairlie last week to track down Santa.
It was a beautiful December day in Fairlie, hardly the sort of day you’d expect to find the big man in the red suit.
But the town was holding its annual Santa parade that evening, so if there was a chance to catch Santa in action, the day offered as good an opportunity as any.
Fairlie’s not unfamiliar with November snow, and winter temperatures can fall well below zero, so perhaps the idea that Santa lives here isn’t so unbelievable.
The house I’d been directed to wasn’t giving much away. No elves working their magic in the workshop, and no sleigh or reindeer in the carport.
But when a knock on the door was answered with a robust “ho ho ho”, it seemed the tip-off was a good one, and the door opened to reveal the man himself, all twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks.
Of course, he can’t be walking around as Santa all year round – there’s no magic in that – so when it’s not Santa season, he reverts to his alter ego, going about his day-to-day life as the Rev Michael Kerr.
He is a familiar face in Fairlie, since he was first posted to the district in 1996.
Ordained 30 years earlier in the Christ Church Cathedral, Rev Kerr worked in parishes around the South Island – in Christchurch, Waimate, the Mackenzie Country – and held chaplaincy roles at Timaru Hospital and Hanmer’s alcohol rehabilitation facility.
Christmas cards strung up in the lounge come from around the country and the world, reflecting the human connections he speaks of often – couples he has married, old school friends, a friend from kindergarten.
He has married couples from many countries at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo, and many have kept in touch.
It is a busy time of the year – not so much now as when he was still ministering, when he would be juggling a hectic Christmas night of delivering presents around the world with his duties at Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.
Retired for 10 years now, once his Santa duties are completed, he is able to spend Christmas Day with his children and grandchildren.
With a fine crop of white whiskers underneath the white beard foiling tugging hands, and an arsenal of terrible Christmas jokes at his disposal – “How much did Santa pay for his sleigh? Nothing, it was on the house” – Rev Kerr is helping keep the magic of Christmas alive.