Almost 40 years after it first started, the annual ‘Black Santa’ sit-out at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast has adopted a credit card reader in its annual charity fund-raising bash.
The annual event was started in 1976 by Cathedral Dean Sammy Crooks and has raised millions of pounds for charities over the decades since, thanks to generous donations by the public.
The ‘Black Santa’ title was first used in the 1980s, when the media dubbed then Dean Jack Shearer with it due to the flowing black woollen robes he wore during the eight-day sit-out.
Next year will be the 40th anniversary of the fund-raiser which current dean, Rev Dean Mann, hopes to mark in special fashion.
It will be his sixth year donning the same ‘Black Santa’ outfit as his predecessors.
“We are determined that we will maintain the tradition of Black Santa but we are developing it, I suppose, from year to year,” he told the News Letter.
“Last year we introduced new ways of giving and people could give through electronic bank transfer as well as the traditional ways of cash and cheques.
“That works very well and a lot of people use that. But this year we have a card reader in order that people who don’t carry much cash at all can still give.
“I think that is just moving into the modern era.”
Asked if he might introduce a mobile phone app next year, he replied: “Who knows? People have said there is this ‘contactless giving’ so they can just do it on the way past.
“Whether we can manage that sort of technology I don’t know.
“Next year will be the 40th anniversary of this starting so we will probably do something special.”
He said they aim to raise around £200,000 each year.
“It is a very large sum of money and when you are starting from nothing it seems a massive amount, but people are very generous and hopefully we will get somewhere near it.”
The money goes to mostly local charities based in communities – often quite small organisations that don’t have an ability to raise funds themselves, he said, while a proportion also goes overseas through Christian Aid.
Rev Mann also elaborated on the meaning of Christmas which motivates him to face the challenge each year.
“As a Christian, the meaning of Christmas is that God in Christ is becoming one with us and that tremendous gift we are given by God is something we express in our giving back – as far as we can – to God himself but also in our sharing with one another,” he said.