Santa Claus fan Shawn Slavin takes a selfie with Percy Hayes at a care home in White Rock on July 29. Hayes

A holly, jolly birthday

A fan’s Facebook campaign goes viral for Surrey’s Percy Hayes, the ‘real’ Santa Claus.

Shawn Slavin was visiting his great aunt last Tuesday at a seniors’ care home in White Rock when he discovered something that prompted a flood of childhood memories.

Santa lives at 1550 Oxford St.

This is Percy Hayes, the man Slavin knew as the jolly old elf from Guildford Town Centre, and the man whose lap Slavin and his two brothers sat on each Christmas from the age of four to 11.

The 27-year-old Victoria man quickly posted a message on Facebook asking for people to send their best wishes to Hayes, who was about to celebrate his 84th birthday on Wednesday the following week (July 29).

“He was (and still is) the REAL Santa Claus,” Slavin wrote.

Within eight days of the online posting – on Hayes’ birthday – Slavin was at Santa’s side at the care home, along with a basket full of birthday cards – 141 so far – that were mailed from as far away as England.

As visitors paid their respects, Santa wore his trusty hat and jingled his bells.

“Wonderful people, they’re all wonderful,” said Hayes.

Photo submitted by Shawn Slavin.

Darlene Gaunt said her father still has his Santa suit and boots, which he used for 12 years at Guildford Town Centre, two years at Metrotown, one year at the downtown Vancouver Sears and several Surrey firefighters and food bank charities until he retired around 2000.

Gaunt says the family had originally planned on a regular family birthday for her father.

But with 2,900 likes and more than 5,000 shares on Slavin’s Facebook page, this Christmas-themed birthday was special – and not too taxing for Hayes.

“I’m very pleased,” Gaunt said. “Everything has unfolded so nicely.”

A few other eager admirers visited Hayes in recent days with a cards and good wishes.

“I felt bad… when I read the card to him he teared up… such a sweetheart,” said George Mow Jr., who posted photos he took of himself and Hayes on his Facebook page.

Mow was a “Santa helper” from the 1960s to the 1980s at Guildford Town Centre.

“He has been a part of my life and my child’s life for as far as I can remember,” wrote Shelley Brink of Calgary. “(He) was our star of Christmas.”

Birthday cards are still welcome. The address is: Percy Hayes, c/o Evergreen Baptist Campus of Care, 1550 Oxford St., White Rock, B.C., V4B 3R5.