Shirley and George Groombridge have been Mr and Mrs Claus for 20 years. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

After 20 years of service, George and Shirley Groombridge are retiring their red caps and giving up the title of Mr and Mrs Claus.

For the past two decades, George, 90, and Shirley, 89, have dressed up as the Christmas couple to greet children as they recite their Christmas wish lists.

The Groombridges estimate they’ve seen several thousand Wairarapa children and have even met the next generation from children they’ve met before.

“One week I remember we saw over 200 children,” George said on Friday.

The two started dressing as Mr and Mrs Claus in 1998, where they greeted children at a cafe in the Masterton Arcade centre before moving in later years to Paper Plus.

For George, it was about recreating his own childhood memories and spreading the Christmas spirit.

“I can remember rushing down with my late brother and seeing all the Father Christmases on Queen St.

“Santa Claus was quite special for me when I was a little boy.”

Their costumes were so convincing, their friends didn’t even recognise them, George said.

“Our age and having a Mrs Claus probably helps convince children.”

Shirley said it was “very enjoyable and physically undemanding work”.

The pair are always careful to avoid being seen wearing their costumes when they’re not playing the part.

It was important to explain to children why there might be so many Santas in town, she said.

“We have to sneak down the drive so neighbouring children don’t see us in our costumes.”

Over the years, the two had noticed how children had changed.

There were still the usual request for new bikes, toys, dolls and animals to take home, but children were also increasingly asking for electronic games and devices.

“There’s a lot of high-tech stuff that children ask for which we know nothing about,” George said.

He said children were also more exuberant these days.

“They’re all into high-fives, even the little ones.”

Shirley agreed, “they’re not too shy”.

The two have three daughters of their own, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Next October, they will also celebrate 70 years of marriage together.

This year, they’re looking forward to enjoying Christmas lunch with their family in Palmerston North.

‘Mr and Mrs Claus’ will be at Paper Plus on Saturday, December 21, for one final appearance.