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In pictures: Father Christmas in Manchester through the decades


Installing a giant Father Christmas in Albert Square has been a festive tradition since the mid-eighties. 

Generations are sure to remember his various incarnations, but the latest – nicknamed Zippy due to his resemblance to a popular character on children’s show Rainbow – may have been the most popular yet.

For the past twelve years, his November appearances have officially marked the start of Christmas for thousands. But now he is no more, having been sold off by the council this summer to new owners Kellogg’s – where he made a shock comeback at the weekend. 

Whilst we mourn his loss (and wait for Zippy’s replacement to be revealed), we take a look back at his various incarnations through the decades.

The original Manchester Father Christmas astride the Town Hall clock in 1986, image courtesy of Manchester City Council

A fixture in Manchester for nearly thirty years, the city’s first Santa was an 80-foot inflatable figure who clung to the side of the clock tower as if his life depended on it. 

Installed in the mid-eighties, he lasted six years, undergoing numerous surgeries during his reign to repair his many holes. 

He would often deflate, and was even punctured twice by gargoyles – the stony little grinches. Perhaps they didn’t like him stealing their Christmas thunder. 

Father Christmas’s reindeer, image courtesy of Manchester City Council

And on the other side of the town hall, above the mayor’s apartment roof, sat his trusty reindeer.

They, too, suffered the indignity of numerous deflations over the years.

Looking tired and worn out, the decision was made to replace Santa and his reindeer in the early ’90s with this rosy-cheeked fella.

Zippy 2.0 in 2006. Image courtesy of Duncan Hull on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Managing to look both cheerful and terrifying at the same time, he watched over the city’s festive celebrations from the town hall roof for many years.

Photos show him waving down at revelers from the town hall roof as they enjoyed the Christmas markets.

That is until he, too, was retired in 2007. 

Zippy 2.0 taken in 2005. Image courtesy of Luke Montague on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

Enter Zippy, possibly the most beloved of all our Santas yet.

Weighing a staggering six tonnes, he was made especially for his home on Albert Square by French company Blachere.

Blachere also produces Christmas lights and decorations to illuminate the Trafford Centre shopping mall and Harrods in London. 

Christmas Markets zippy Santa

Composed of 89 different pieces and illuminated by 100,000 LED light bulbs, putting him together was no easy feat. It took three days, a lot of money and plenty of manpower. 

So in August, the council announced they would be putting him up for sale – despite having given him a full refurb just two years prior in celebration of his tenth birthday

As the council’s city centre spokesman Pat Karney said at the time: “Even giant steel Santas need to retire.”

Image courtesy of Constant Weader on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

But when the news broke that Manchester’s favourite festive mascot was being served his notice, reactions were mixed.

Many were devastated, whilst others claimed they were never a fan in the first place. 

It’s since been revealed that we will be getting a new Santa this year – but for the first time ever he will be at Piccadilly Gardens, not Albert Square.

Potential designs for his replacement were put to the public earlier this year and included a Santa ‘stuck in the chimney’, a Santa sat on a giant present, a robot Santa, and a Santa wearing headphones and holding a bee-flavoured lollipop.

Due to be revealed this week, councillor Karney told BBC Radio Manchester that the new figure is going to be ‘more like Zippy’s dad’.

He’s certainly got some big boots to fill.

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