For more than three decades, Harold Connell has been putting smiles on the faces of children and adults alike, and now, as the festive season draws near, he is ready to don the Santa suit again.
Harold has been the resident Santa at Greensborough Plaza for 34 years, making him the longest serving Santa in Melbourne.
A lover of all things Christmas, he first started playing Santa while working for Greensborough Fire Brigade in the 1970s. He used to play Santa at the nearby toy store and filled in one year for Christmas celebrations on Main Street.
When they built the new shopping centre across the road from the station, he decided to apply for the role of resident Santa Claus and has been doing it ever since.
Harold said he gets a lot of happiness from being around the kids and seeing the joy on their faces.
"No one wants to get old, and when you've got all these young people around you, you really feel young," he said.
"I love it. I haven't probably grown up, I'm still at that age. You just hope that what they ask for, they get."
So what do the kids ask for? Harold said that has changed a lot over the years, and while a lot of the young girls still ask for dolls, the majority of kids these days are asking for things to do with technology and computer equipment.
Some kids ask for pets, too, in which case Harold always tries to make eye contact with the parents to gauge their feelings before giving his response.
While the vast majority of Harold's experiences at the centre have been positive, there have been sad moments. One year a little girl sat on his lap and said her wish was for her Dad to come back home.
Then there was the bittersweet moment of a woman in her 80s who burst into tears of joy after sitting on his lap - explaining that she had never been able to sit on Santa's lap as a child because her family had not been able to afford to pay for a meeting.
Adults asking to meet Santa and sometimes sit on his lap to take photos for their families is a regular occurrence, as are visits from those who used to sit on his lap as children and are now grown up.
Some people come to the store specifically asking to see 'Santa Harold', and he has established a bond with some families that transcends generations.
"A lady came in a couple of years ago and had these three boys who were all six foot tall standing together and she said, 'Santa, you held these kids when they were babies'.
"People come in with their photos and say these are all the photos we've had with you, and that just makes your life."
It is not only the shopping centre where he is recognised and identified, either. He recounts one amusing story of being recognised at his holiday home in Barmah.
"A bloke was cleaning out my septic tank and he said 'are you Santa Harold?' My wife adores you, we go to Greensborough every year."
Harold comes from a large family. He was one of seven siblings and said Christmas was always a big deal in the Connell household.
"There was seven of us, seven kids, and we always made the most of Christmas," he said.
"Even when I was at the fire brigade, someone would come up and give my meal to me."
The 82-year-old has two great grandchildren now and is enjoying sharing the joy of Christmas with the younger generation.
"You can do that much with them - they love hiding and doing that type of thing, and when we sit around the lounge and give presents out, it's just unbelievable."
One of his great grandchildren is new born, so he has extra reason to be excited about donning the Santa suit again this year.
"That's one of reasons I'm doing it this year, my grandson said to me, 'Grandpa, I want you to be Hunter's first Santa."
Mind you, not all of the family's children have been so receptive to him while he was wearing his Santa suit.
One year, when his granddaughter Macy was little, his daughter Caroline took her to see Santa for the first time.
"She hated Santa. She went into the corner and started crying. She came home and sat next to me on the lounge and said, 'Grandpa, there's a horrible man at the centre'.
"She was cuddling up to him and didn't know it."
Thankfully, Macy has well and truly overcome her fear of Santa. She even volunteered as one of her grandfather's helper elves at the centre one year.
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