For 45 years, Eddie Broderick has played Santa for the City of Bayonne.
“It’s my job,” he said laughing as he posed with the last of the hundreds of kids that came to see him at the official city tree lighting as he handed out candy canes to each child, and a few other observers who had the glimmer of childhood still in their eyes.
People don’t get over Santa when they grow up, and many of the adults who weren’t prompting shy children towards Santa during the hour-long ritual on Dec. 3 grinned like children at the man who has become a symbol of the season.
“I started back in 1968,” Broderick said, peering out for the last of the children before calling it a night.
He can’t explain just why he took up the job in the first place, shrugging his shoulders a little, but he has grown into the job.
“I started out in an igloo,” he said. “Now we have a stage and I arrive on a fire truck.”
The Christmas season, as Mayor Mark Smith pointed out earlier during the tree lighting festivities, may not feel like Christmas because of the unusually warm temperatures, but the calendar doesn’t lie. The spirit of the holiday was still there as pre-school kids sang carols and then kids of all ages took part in the countdown that led to the official lighting of the tree, Menorah and Nativity set.
“I started out in an igloo. Now we have a stage and I arrive on a fire truck.” – Santa Claus
Broderick always has a twinkle in his eyes, and has come out for this event in every kind of weather, greeting kids and their parents with an enthusiastic wave of his hand as he climbs down off the back of the fire truck. He reached out to everybody, part of a ritual so ingrained in him that it is easy to believe he is Santa because for these few previous hours, he is.
The kids lined up to wait their turn to sit on his lap and give him their wishes for Christmas gift, some shy – as if envisioning a scene out of the classic film A Christmas Story – others bold, bristling in their parents’ grasp as if fearing Santa would take off before they got their chance to tell him what they want.
But Broderick patiently waited for shy or bold, smiling at each, looking closely at their happy, nervous faces, as parents snapped pictures from nearby, capturing this special moment in their children’s lives. It is something they will later look back on as one of the great and treasured moments in their time of youth.
This is not to say that there wasn’t a touch of sadness – even for Santa. During all these years, he has seen many happy faces, and some who have passed on, some even related to him, and in conveying the loss of one recently, he could only shake his head.
“He was only seven when I started this,” he said, sad for that moment only to have the cheer return to his eyes when one last kid edged up shyly to the platform, one more young face that makes this time of year so precious.
“And what do you want for Christmas?” he asked with 45 years of patience and joy reverberating in his voice, and this last child, like all those before him, mumbled out some request as Santa slowly nodded and smiled.