Ho-ho-hometown tradition lives on

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NEW GLOUCESTER — Residents of New Gloucester will be treated to a special visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus on Christmas Eve as part of a tradition that has spanned 52 years. 

This year, the Clauses will visit Thompson’s Orchard, Town Hall and Upper Village to meet children and distribute goodie bags. 

John Kiley’s family began the special tradition 52 years ago. 

“My father, my grandfather and a couple other guys in town started it in 1966. Our family has been involved in it one way or another since then. I kind of picked up the ball probably 12 to 15 years ago,” he said. 

Santa’s special visits began as a joke, he said, when his grandfather got hold of a Santa suit, but the event endured. 

Now, he and his wife Lisa have taken over. John played Santa Claus for many years, and Lisa is still Mrs. Claus. They craft 250 goodie bags each year to hand out to children. 

Lisa said the bags contain little toys, some candy and crayons and a coloring book, which “is tradition.” 

“I just love it. It’s just fun,” she said.

John said Santa and Mrs. Claus visit between 150 and 225 kids each year. 

While the Kileys receive some donations to pay for the goodie bags, the rest is funded out of pocket. 

Parents are also welcome to drop off a present for their child in advance, which Santa will deliver when he meets the child at one of the three stops. 

Lisa said her favorite part about the role is watching the children. “It’s amazing to watch their faces,” she said. 

She said residents love the event each year “because it’s so old-fashioned. Or they’ve just moved to town and think, ‘this is so different from anything I’ve seen.'”

John said that over the years, generations of families have visited New Gloucester Santa. 

“It’s gone from the kids that were getting gifts, now they’ve become parents and having their kids get gifts. In some cases, their grandchildren are getting gifts. It’s a lot of fun,” he said. 

Three years ago, he handed off his Santa hat to Tim Joy, a resident in town. He now works “to get everything organized and to try to make sure the stops run smoothly.”

Kiley said Joy approached him about filling in the role and does a great job.

“Back when this all started in the 60s, I was one of the first recipients of a present,” Joy said.

Joy believes in the value of selfless service. He spent 17½ years in the Army Reserve as a truck driver and 4½ years in the Air Force as a mechanic. 

“That’s my personality. This is really from the heart. I’m enjoying the role,” he said.

John looks forward to this year’s New Gloucester Santa and seeing generations of residents celebrate together. 

“There’s a community that comes together. It’s everybody that you might not see even though they’re your neighbors. Everybody’s in a good mood, everybody’s happy, everybody’s celebrating,” he said.

On Christmas Eve, Santa, Mrs. Claus and their helpers will be at Thompson’s Orchard from about  5-5:30 p.m., at Town Hall from about 6-6:30 p.m. and at the Upper Village (near the town garage) from 7-7:30 p.m. 

Jane Vaughan can be reached at 780-9103 or at jvaughan@keepmecurrent.com.

New Gloucester Santa prepares to greet children at one of his local stops last year.

Santa and Mrs. Claus are ready to greet children in New Gloucester.