With the holiday season on the horizon sooner than we might realize, a familiar face will once again appear on Main Street in Weston, spreading cheer and granting visitors a little bit of holiday magic to take back home.
It seems everyone knows “Father Christmas” — who is preparing to celebrate his 25th year in one of Kansas City's favorite getaway towns.
First conceived by renowned photographer Gehrig Fry and former wife, Jan Specht, whose home is featured on this year's Candlelight Homes Tour, the real-life “Father Christmas” was born from a desire to create some holiday images with a vintage, “magical” feel.
The project, Fry says, soon took on a life of its own. Someone mentioned a man who seemed to have the right “look” for the part — local
Tom Hooper. Through donations by various citizens of Weston, a costume was created.
“Once I saw Tom in the suit, everything changed,” said Fry. “I thought it was too blatantly commercial to set up photography sessions with him — I just couldn't charge people for the experience. So I asked Tom just to walk around town for a while and see what comes of it. From there, he just kept going. Word spread, and people came from all over the country to see 'Father Christmas.'”
From there, as “Father Christmas,” Hooper went on to become a featured subject for Hallmark Cards, and today continues to work with local charities throughout the holiday season, such as the Leavenworth Animal Welfare Society. This year, he also serves as inspiration for the 31st Annual Candlelight Homes Tour, beginning Friday, November 30.
According to merchant Andrea Nelson-Priddy, owner/operator of Nelson & Taylor Interiors and president of the Weston Chamber of Commerce, “Father Christmas” is the heart behind Weston's holiday season.
“Weston has always had a unique atmosphere, where the rush of modern life seems to slow down a bit — and it's especially apparent this time of year, when 'Father Christmas' is among us,” said Nelson-Priddy. The reason for that, Fry explains, has nothing to do with the legendary figure, and everything to do with the man behind it.
“Two weeks after we met, I visited his home,” said Fry. “Everywhere I looked, there was Christmas. When I learned he had been making homemade toys for children for years, I felt goosebumps. All we wanted was for something magical to happen. And for 25 years, it has.”
“Father Christmas” arrives in Weston on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 5:30 p.m. for the city's annual tree lighting ceremony at the west end of Main Street.
Featuring carolers, refreshments, and souvenirs, this event is free to the public. You can find Father Christmas strolling downtown Weston every weekend until Christmas Eve.
The 2012 Candlelight Homes Tour, featuring four homes and one home/bed & breakfast, will be held Friday, Nov. 30 — Sunday, Dec. 2.
For complete details, including hours and ticket prices, visit westonmo.com/entertainment/calendar.html. Tickets go on sale beginning Oct. 1.
The Weston Chamber of Commerce will auction off the only remaining original Gehrig Fry photograph of “Father Christmas” on Sunday, Dec. 2, following the 2012 Candlelight Homes Tour. All proceeds go to benefit Platte County Health Department's Adopt-A-Family Program.
For more information, contact the Weston Chamber of Commerce at 816-640-2909 or firstname.lastname@example.org.