It seems you can't keep a creepy Santa down. Thanks to the generosity of Mansons TCLM and SkyCity, the gigantic Santa is set to grace (or should that be disgrace?) Auckland's Queen Street for yet another festive season. He's been watching over us since 1960 and some people think he's now well past his expiry date.
Creepy Santa has been much discussed over recent years. A 2008 article about him bears one of my favourite headlines of all time: Polarising old winker gets the nod. People either love him or hate him. It seems that the majority love him. In order to keep his many fans happy, back then Heart of the City said "it would find the $55,000 needed to bring him back".
Yet the truth is that he is aesthetically challenged. Oh, let's be honest: he's downright hideous. He is out of proportion. He is grotesque. There is nothing nice about him. He was especially famous for having a strange finger and misshapen eyes. At one stage this Santa underwent "four months of cosmetic surgery" in order to improve his unfortunate looks. In 2009 it was reported that $100,000 worth of restoration work was performed to make him "more jovial".
Watch: Timelapse - Auckland Santa erected
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Then in 2011 he was described as "tragically disfigured" and achieved the dubious honour of being "branded the world's creepiest Christmas ornament". When it comes to inappropriate symbols of seasonal materialism little old New Zealand is punching above its weight. Go us! In spite of this, many thousands of Aucklanders continue to regard him as some sort of cultural icon. Sad but true.
Santa's appearance fee might have been a reported $55,000 a few years ago but now he costs a whopping $180,000 a year to maintain. It's lucky he's not on display for more than a couple of months. If he was in residence year round a simple calculation indicates that he could cost over $1,000,000 annually - in which case Creepy Santa would surely be one of Auckland's highest paid civil servants.
Yet at heart, this is not really a story about either unattractive Santas or obscene amounts of money. This is a story about nostalgia. This is about how we view our past through rose-tinted glasses. It's about how what we remember is softened and romanticised by the passage of time. In the good old days things were better. Because of this (and despite all evidence that this is a substandard Santa, one that you'd expect no rational person to want to preserve) legions of Aucklanders will not hear a bad word said about him.
I grew up in Hawke's Bay so I have no loyalty to Creepy Santa. Instead, occasional nostalgic ideas inspire me to take detours past childhood homes and to ride the cable car from Wellington's Lambton Quay to Salamanca Road where I flatted as a student. Not long ago I sampled a limited issue Strawberry Toppa mainly because it reminded me of countless lunch hours spent sitting in a pale blue uniform on the concrete steps leading to the swimming pool at Hastings Girls' High.
My latest attempt at reconnecting with my long-lost youth occurred two weeks ago at New World in Havelock North where I smuggled a bottle of Mateus Rosé into my trolley. It was purely for old times' sake. In the early 80s I'd considered this drop to be the height of sophistication. I wanted to see what I thought of it now. (Truth be told, I didn't like it. After years of drinking flavourful local wines, the Mateus did not compare well. It tasted thin, metallic and faintly fizzy.)
But when you're a captain of industry, nostalgia needn't be expressed in the form of anything as trifling as an ice-block, a cable car ride or Portuguese wine. When you're a business leader or high-up executive, your gestures may be unfailingly grand. You're so powerful you can heroically save an Auckland icon. Yet if sanity had prevailed, Creepy Santa would have been mothballed once and for all. It would be better if the idea of this beloved Auckland Santa was able to flourish in people's imaginations unfettered by flawed reality. Instead we are destined to be frequently reminded that he hasn't aged well and, in fact, he wasn't really all that flash to start with.