Most people come home from the SantaFest Pub Crawl with a smile on their face and a hangover the next morning, but 20 years ago Jen Algie picked up something a little more life-changing.
A Santa spun her around – and two years later, they were married.
“Robbie Williams was playing that night, and my usual bunch of friends wanted to see him, but I wasn’t that keen,” Jen said.
“I went to the pub crawl without them, so I was floating around a bit when I stopped to watch three Santas doing a joke performance at the Wollongong amphitheatre in the mall.
“I saw a Santa off to the side and asked why he didn’t join them.
“He told me he was waiting for his dancing partner, grabbed my hand, spun me around and dipped me.
“That was my introduction to James – 20 years later we have SantaFest to thank for our marriage, four beautiful kids and two dogs.”
There must have been a bit of Christmas magic in the air in 2003, because as Jen got to know James better, she realised the extroverted Santa she met wasn’t his usual modus operandi.
“He’s smart, fun and a gentleman, but I think most people who know him would be surprised he was so daring,” she said.
“I might have brought it out in him by being a bit flirty – and it might have been the magic of the Santa suit.”
Or maybe it was just meant to be.
When James picked Jen up for their first date, he went inside her house to meet her golden retriever – only to be confronted with a photo of himself hanging in the kitchen.
“I had up a photo of me and some friends from SantaFest the year before – and there was James in the background, carrying some beers,” Jen said.
“So for that whole year, he was in a photo in my kitchen and I had no idea.”
From their first official date at Pot of Gold Mexican restaurant, things just clicked for the couple.
They realised pub crawl organiser Neil Webb was a friend they had in common, and joked that he’s the Cupid responsible for bringing them together.
They got married in 2005 and welcomed their first child into the world in 2006.
He had his SantaFest debut in utero – Jen was drinking lemonade – but will be able to go by himself next year.
And who knows, he might just meet someone special.
“The event was a bit smaller then, only 300 or so people,” Jen said.
“Now it’s massive, it’s become huge.”
She’s not wrong – the event is recognised as the longest continually run Santa Pub Crawl in the world and it celebrated its 30th run this December, after COVID forced a break.
The annual event doesn’t just spread Christmas cheer, it also raises funds for charity through admission ticket sales, donations and merchandise. This year’s beneficiaries were Salvation Army Illawarra, Disabled Surfers Association, the Disability Trust and EscaBags.