The Santa House is new to State Street in Bristol, but it’s been in one local man’s heart for years.
Michael Rielly radiates excitement and the best kind of pride showing off the many special details and touches of Bristol’s Santa House, his longtime dream, recently realized.
“The house is dedicated to my grandfather Jim Rielly,” Michael said. “Most people know that he was Santa for 62 years; he’s in the Santa Claus Hall of Fame.”
The house, located at the corner of State and Thames Streets, was essentially bought as a shell, a stripped tiny house. Directed by Michael’s vision, it has become a Christmas wonderland, decorated to the rafters, with peppermint-swirl windows, a Rudolph weathervane, and even a special mailbox, for letters to Santa only. “It was just bare, and and we were able to transform it into this,” said Michael.
The Santa House is an initiative of the James D. Rielly Foundation, and is independent of the Bristol Christmas Festival (though there is, of course, much enthusiastic overlap between the two organizations). Now that it’s here, the Santa House will be playing a key role in Bristol’s holiday festivities.
Jim Rielly never took any money for being Santa, whether for the children of military and first responders or the special needs children whose happiness was always his priority. The house is sprinkled with lots of memorabilia of Jim’s, including awards and honors, photos from Christmases long past, and even his antique sleigh bells.
“We just feel his spirit is here,” said Michael. “And I am carrying on his tradition.”
A core mission for some special kids
“I started the James D. Rielly foundation so that we could do things like this,” said Michael. “The mission of the Santa House is for kids with special needs. It’s open to the public, but the core mission is for kids that can't stand in a line, kids that can't go to the mall, or it's just too difficult for their families to bring them to these places where they can meet with Santa and have a magical Christmas experience. So that's what we're doing here.”
At the Bristol Santa House, families with children with special needs can reserve time slots that will allow them to have 15-20 minutes of Santa time, one-on-one without any distractions.
‘It just came together’
It's a temporary structure. “I got permission from the town and Jim Reuter, who owns the land here, was very gracious to allow us just to put it here,” said Michael. “We've been very blessed. We've had an outpouring of support. All these things just kind of came together; it’s just the spirit of Christmas.
“Ultimately, I want to find a permanent location for the Santa house. It's something very unique.”
The Santa House is open to the public during the Christmas Festival on Saturday Dec. 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 5 to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.; Thursday and Saturday, Dec. 13 and 17 from 5 to 8 p.m.; during the Snowflake Raffle on Sunday, Dec. 18 from 3 to 5 p.m.; Tuesday, Dec. 20 from 5 to 8 p.m. and Friday, Dec. 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday evenings are reservation only, from 5 to 8 p.m. Visit jdrfoundation.org for more information and a full schedule.