Santa Mark loves Christmas so much that his Ho, Ho, Ho-ing begins at Halloween.
That’s when the Sandy Claus jolly big man begins donning his red suit and posing for beach photographs with Novocastrian families and their pets.
It’s a practice that continues until Christmas Eve, where he eventually takes a break, joining his three children and five grandchildren celebrating festivities at his Lake Macquarie home.
Getting sand between the toes, sunburned cheeks and sweaty red suits may not be for everyone, but Santa Mark says it is his favourite eight weeks of the year.
“It started when my granddaughter Maggie wouldn’t sit on any Santa’s knee for a photo,” he said.
“Her mum would try and get a family Christmas photo but no, she wouldn’t do it.”
That’s when the electrician of almost half a century, began donning the red suits and neglecting to shave.
“My daughter Kate reckons the goatee was a bit of a mess that first year, but it grew every year,” he said.
The beard is now thick, white and lengthy.
The gentle, cheerful grandfather has grown in popularity throughout the Hunter, volunteering for appearances at social clubs, Christmas parties and charitable events.
“I met Jasey after she saw me doing a gig at a Leagues club,” Santa Mark said.
“That was four or five years ago now.”
Photos with Sandy Claus founder Jasey Stanley said despite this year’s additional challenges, her team of eight have snapped at least 1,000 families in the past six weeks.
Their locations include Redhead Beach, Dixon Park Beach and Lake Macquarie.
“We’ve had to socially-distance and find new ways to get all of the family members and Santa in a shot, but we’ve made it work,” she said.
Freelancing as a photographer for more than 15 years in shopping centres, Jasey said moving her work to the beach was a turning point.
“I love it,” she said.
“I love the challenge, and that includes the weather. A little drizzle is fine, overcast skies is great but the wind can be a pain.”
Capturing whole families, including the four-legged members, together with Santa, still brings a smile to her face, Jasey said.
“Some kids love Santa until they’re up close and then they freak out. You can see it on their faces they’re thinking ‘hang on a minute he’s real and he talks!’
“But watching their faces light up when Santa talks to them makes it all worthwhile.”
Jasey said the process is quick but the results, she feels, are timeless.
“They all only get their 60 seconds with Santa but it’s all about that “It’s my turn, it’s my turn”.
“Then they see Santa and it’s all part of that sprinkle of Christmas magic, and we all need that, especially this year.”