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Remembering Belfast's first Black Santa, Dean Sammy Crooks

Black Santa's diary: The Very Rev John Mann

The Black Santa collection began in a rather special way last Friday, with the unveiling of a Blue Plaque bearing the name of its founder, Dean Sammy Crooks.

Those who remember those early days - we are talking 1976 - will recall the first Black Santa as a man of determined character who would unapologetically approach people for money and, as a result, he was responsible for raising large sums for the cathedral, for overseas disaster appeals and, as has become a mark of the Christmas sit-out, vital contributions to local charities.

At the unveiling of the Blue Plaque, speakers paid tribute to the inspirational person that Dean Crooks was, and the way in which his character marked the success of the Black Santa appeal, which is much helped by the media embracing this Belfast Christmas tradition.

After that special start, and with a flurry of snow falling from a chilly blue sky, we soon fell into the groove of the 2014 Cathedral Christmas Sit-out, the 38th, and the magic figure of £200,000 is there in my mind again for the target. Last year we fell an agonising £4,000 short, but £196,000 was a fabulous result nonetheless.

It is a collection in three parts, really. Cheques come in prior to the actual sit-out, which amounts to a good deal before we really get going; then comes what will be 10 days of collection.

The final third comes in after Christmas, when all the church services, office parties, school nativity plays etc. have taken place and organisers tot up their collections and send them in January.

So, if you haven't settled on a cause for your Christmas 'do' yet, then remember Black Santa!

But, it is all about personal engagement too.

That is what makes our chats around the barrel so valuable and the workplace collections more than just the money raised; they are all symbolic too of generosity of thought for others, and, of course, the effect of giving on the giver.

Watching a child empty his or her piggy bank into the barrel, encouraged by parents who have done the same themselves, is signifying something deeper than the coins that trickle through their fingers.

  • The Very Rev John Mann is Dean of Belfast

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