The annual Black Santa appeal has this year been the most successful since the current Dean of Belfast took on the responsibility six years ago.
Started by Dean Sammy Crooks in the 1970s, the Black Santa tradition has raised an estimated £8 million for charity over the course of 40 years, with this year’s total – in excess of £200,000 – one of the best ever.
In 1975, after severe flooding in Bangladesh resulted in many thousands of deaths, Dean Crooks decided to stand on Donegall Street outside his Cathedral to collect money for the disaster appeal. His impromptu collection was so successful that he was persuaded to repeat it the following Christmas, using the slogan: ‘Give and let live. Save the children, feed the hungry, heal the sick. Please don’t pass them by.’
He was dubbed Black Santa because of the black Anglican cloak he wore to keep warm.
Forty years later, the current Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, says this year’s appeal has been one of the most successful.
“This is my sixth year, the 40th in total, and it is certainly the biggest total since I’ve started,” he said. “We hit £200,000 mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve so we’ve already collected over £200,000 which was our target this year.
“There is money that comes in after Christmas because churches have carol services and schools have nativities and so on, so I was hoping to get £200,000 before the end of January. To have hit £200,000 before Christmas has been remarkable.
“People have possibly made an extra effort because it is the 40th anniversary. It is hard to know why but the generosity of people has been just as good as ever, and better in fact.”
The Dean’s annual sit-out is not for the faint hearted, coming as it does in the frosty weeks before Christmas.
Dean Mann said: “Temperature wise it has been good. We had some quite wet weather and there were about two or three hours on a Friday that were really very unpleasant but on the whole one couldn’t complain about the weather this year. It’s been quite mild.
“The clothing is quite effective actually. That’s why Dean Crooks chose these things to wear. It is clerical dress but it is very sensible clothing.”
The Dean of Belfast said the fact that people can now donate online to the Black Santa appeal has been a big help.
“I think the success has been a combination of a number of things,” he said. “The publicity has helped, the fact that we are keeping traditions alive but in a new way with things like the online donations, and the actual fact that it is a tradition has helped.”
The sit-out has ended but online donations are still being accepted on the website www.JustGiving.com