The ‘Black Santa’ Christmas charity sit-out on the steps of St Anne’s Church of Ireland cathedral has been a Belfast institution for 38 years, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for worthwhile causes both local and overseas.
The sit-out was established in December 1976 by a popular Dean of Belfast the Rev Samuel Crooks during a very tense period of the Northern Ireland Troubles when working class families across the city were also badly affected by an economic depresssion.
Dean Crooks, who tragically died in a road accident in 1986, was a gregarious, hard-working and larger than life cleric who held a wider view of Christianity and, for 12 years in all kinds of weather for the several weeks running up to Christmas Eve, he took up his familiar black-garbed pose with a collection barrel that became filled to the brim with donations from people of all faiths and none.
After Dean Crooks’ untimely death, the noble ‘Black Santa’ tradition was meticulously carried on by his successors in the Deanery of Belfast - the Rev Dr Jack Shearer and the Rev Dr Houston McKelvey and the present occupant of St Anne’s the Rev John Mann has taken on the mantle with equal dedication and purpose.
Quite appropriately, Dean Crooks’ enterprising charity initiative is now recognised by the Ulster History Circle with the erection of a Blue Plaque at the west font of the cathedral.
The ‘Black Santa’ sit-out has been a tangible expression of the enormous generosity of the Northern Ireland public when it comes to giving to deserving causes and the late Dean Samuel Crooks back in 1976 certainly lit a torch for those suffering deprivation and hardship, not just on these shores, but in parts of the world where extreme weather conditions and lack of human resources make life almost unbearable.
This year’s Black Santa pre-Christmas appeal at St Anne’s began yesterday and the Belfast public should be encouraged to once again rise to the occasion with donations that will considerably improve the lot of those less fortunate than ourselves.