Christmas Eve at the Janeway: No Ordinary Rounds. No Ordinary Santa


Christmas Eve at the Janeway.

Tonight, it’s much quieter than most evenings, as many children are discharged for Christmas. Those who remain need to be there, and the staff who work, are dedicated to keeping their patients not only as well as possible – but also to keeping the spirit of Christmas alive and well, too!

So it’s no surprise to hear the sound of jingle bells outside a patient’s door. For boys and girls who may wonder if Santa will find them in hospital instead of at home – it’s a wonderful, welcome sound!

He may be coming down a corridor instead of a chimney – but it’s him: Santa Claus…red suit, white beard, special gifts, elves and all.

Photo courtesy of Bruce Templeton

Photo courtesy of Bruce Templeton

It has become a beloved tradition at the Janeway for the children – their families – and the Janeway family. In fact, Santa’s visit is more of a family tradition than you might think. Santa’s chief elf, who accompanies him on Christmas Eve is Dr. Christina Templeton, a pediatric cardiologist.

The man who arranges Santa’s visits to the Janeway – and who has worn the red suit for more than 30 years – is her father, Bruce Templeton, a man who spends most of his time in the world of finance.

Together, they make very special memories – for the children – and for themselves:

“Every child must be seen on Christmas Eve, so coming into the hospital is not optional – we have no choice,” says Bruce. “You get one chance to make a memory for a child. If you can bring comfort and reassurance to a child on Christmas Eve, that’s what it’s all about.”

This Christmas Eve marks the 20th year that Christina has accompanied her father on these special patient rounds. As Santa’s right-hand elf, she leads the way, taking pictures of Santa with the children – along with family pictures, as parents and siblings of the sick child often spend Christmas at the Janeway, as well.

Dr. Christina Templeton, pediatric cardiologist, and her father, Bruce Templeton

Dr. Christina Templeton, pediatric cardiologist, and her father, Bruce Templeton

Christina agrees with her father – that nothing else matters but making the young patients feel safe and comforted. She says it’s become a very special family tradition:

“This time with Dad – it’s hard to put into words, except to say I believe in Santa Claus,” she smiles. “Christmas is about generosity and thoughtfulness, and families finding each other, and being with Santa in hospital on Christmas Eve is just a pure experience of that – a perfect Christmas moment.”

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Photo courtesy of Bruce Templeton

Bruce Templeton’s journey to the Janeway began 37 years ago, with yet another, earlier family connection – a request from his Aunt Anna, a St. John’s businesswoman, who asked if he’d ‘assist’ Santa with an upcoming Christmas event.

Bruce hesitated at first. A Santa role involved the trust of children – and required authenticity. He didn’t have a lot of experience…and he didn’t have an appropriate Santa suit. Well, if anyone could do something about that, it was Anna Templeton.

She specialized in craft-making with textiles – and within days, a package arrived at her nephew’s door. Inside: a Santa suit made of velvet, lambs’ wool and leather – including a beard made of yak’s hair, and prescription eyeglasses.

It was about as authentic as you could get – and it marked the beginning of an enduring journey of a businessman who became known as the ‘The Man in the Red Suit.’

‘Together,’ they’re responsible for dozens of heartwarming encounters during the month of December, between Santa and literally thousands of excited children. But it’s those visits with sick or injured children at the Janeway that have made perhaps the most powerful impressions.

Sammi-Jo snuggles with Santa, December 2015

Sammi-Jo snuggles with Santa, December 2015

Bruce says one mother summed it up well – on behalf of her own child, and many others: “She told me, ‘you make the not-so-normal seem normal again – if only for a brief time.’”

Some of the visits to hospital bedsides are not easy. Some of the children are very ill; some of the pictures with Santa will be the last taken. At those times, the man in the red suit is deeply grateful for the skill and support of his chief elf, Christina, whose medical experience is invaluable.

“It gives me great inner peace when Christina is with me,” Bruce says. “It reminds me of the words in the gospel of John about ‘going to prepare a place for you.’

“It’s very comforting to have my daughter, the doctor, by my side.”

He also takes inspiration from Saint Nicholas – a very real priest who lived more than 1700 years ago in Turkey, and used his money to help the needy, and who later became a patron saint of children.

“Saint Nicholas goes ahead of Santa into the very difficult situations when we know there is pain or possible loss of life, and a prayerful response is needed,” Bruce added. “I say ‘you go first, Nicholas, so I know you are standing beside the child.’ It is comforting to know that Nicholas has also helped prepare the way.”

As a cardiologist, medical rounds are a way of life for Christina. But she says the rounds she makes on Christmas Eve are worlds apart from her daily routine.

“There’s a completely different atmosphere, because of the excitement and happiness when they see Santa,” she adds. “Often they’re afraid he won’t know they’re in hospital, instead of at their house, so to see Santa reassures them they won’t be forgotten.”

The man in the red suit gives a helping hand to the Janeway staff working Christmas Eve, as well – often speaking to their children on the phone, telling them to go to bed, because he’s ‘heading to their house next!’

At the end of the evening, when all the children who can be seen, have been seen – and the red suit ready to be put aside for another year, Bruce Templeton heads home with his daughter, to continue Christmas with his wife Paula, and the rest of his family, reflecting once again on what wearing the suit has really meant.

“I think of it as a ministry, really, and it has changed me,” he says softly. “I go home with my batteries charged with gratitude, for the support I receive – for my wife, children and grandchildren. I leave the Janeway on Christmas Eve with the knowledge that I am an incredibly fortunate man.” ■

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Another Christmas Eve; another job well done.

This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager with Eastern Health, based in St. John’s.

13 responses to “Christmas Eve at the Janeway: No Ordinary Rounds. No Ordinary Santa

  1. 15 years ago, this Santa brought Christmas to a little corner of the special care nursery at the Janeway, where my twin baby girls Ariana Grace and Olivia Hope were fighting to be well and to get strong enough to leave the hospital. My heart was broken that we couldn’t get home for Christmas but in the end it didn’t matter because Christmas came to us. Thank you, Santa. It was a beautiful, special, magical time amidst monitors and tubes and machines and fears. It was our first Christmas with our baby girls and once the disappointment of having to remain at the Janeway settled in, I cherished every moment, knowing that they had to be cherished because there might not be other Christmases. This year, we will celebrate the 15th magical , wonderful Christmas with our girls and I am blessed beyond measure to have them.

  2. Over the years we have always managed to get a pass from hospitals on Christmas but we have certainly experienced the wonder kindness and work of Dr Templeton.
    Merry Christmas
    Dr Templeton and Mr Templeton.

  3. My sister had been very sick and we knew she would be leaving us soon. She spent most of Christmas Eve, 2008, asleep, occasionally waking up for a visitor. Santa came to visit and she came awake right away. She managed to hug him and happily said “Santa” before falling asleep again. She didn’t wake up after that, and passed away early the next morning.
    My sister had Down Syndrome and loved Christmas. It was her favourite holiday, and she loved Santa. It was so fitting that her last waking moments were with her family and Santa Claus. So thank you for what you do, and bringing Christmas to children and families who may be going through a difficult time.

  4. I can still remember your visit 5 years ago. Y sweet little baby was born before her time..after loosing her twin brother..we stuggled to be strong for her…then you walked in and melted my heart. I still remember the sweet loving look you gave her and the Cuddles you gave her. Thank you for bringing some light and love to us at a scary point in our lives. Her and santa will always. E a framer in our household.
    Shes a healthy five year old in mindervarden and learning so fast. Sbws very excited for santa to visit her tonight. 🙂
    From our home to yours, Merry Christmas and thanks for everything you have done for us and all of the little boys and girls. Xo

  5. I can still remember your visit 5 years ago. MY sweet little baby was born before her time..after loosing her twin brother..we stuggled to be strong for her…then you walked in and melted my heart. I still remember the sweet loving look you gave her and the Cuddles you gave her. Thank you for bringing some light and love to us at a scary point in our lives. Her and santa will always be a framer in our household.
    Shes a healthy five year old in kindergarden and learning so fast. Shes very excited for santa to visit her tonight. 🙂
    From our home to yours, Merry Christmas and thanks for everything you have done for us and all of the little boys and girls. Xo

  6. What a wonderful story! Thankful that there are still loving and caring people willing to sacrifice their time and resources to spend the true meaning of the Season! Merry Christmas Mr.Templeton AKA Santa

  7. It’s good to know that there still r people out there with big hearts and to bring smiles to sick kids on Christmas. That’s what Christmas is all about.🎄🎄🎄🎅🎅👼👼👼

  8. A beautiful Christmas Story. A true story that we never heard about or read before.May God bless you Dr.Christina and your Dad Bruce.May 2017 be the beginning of an exciting year.May the Janeway Hospital Medical Staff be blessed as you care for so many children.
    Happy New Year everyone.

  9. It is a privilege that Santa and I have had for 38 years. And Chief Elf Christina is the guiding support.
    The goal is simple and was once said by a caring parent. “He makes the not-so-normal seems normal again if only for a brief period of time.”
    We had 56 visits year and every one was special. Yes, some are very difficult but St. Nicholas is a part of our team as well. He has never failed when called upon.

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