BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — Santa Claus has moved into America’s most patriotic town.
The so-called “Santa House” magically appeared in downtown Bristol just after Thanksgiving.
It’s the brainchild of Michael Rielly, a lifelong Bristolian and founder of the James D. Rielly Foundation.
“Folks all know Bristol for the Fourth of July, but it’s also very much a Hallmark-type location,” Rielly explained.
Rielly, who has also dubbed himself the chief merriment officer, said the Santa House offers children of all ages and abilities the chance to celebrate the holidays.
“What we’re trying to do here is create a place where kids with special needs and their families can come and share Christmas their wishes with Santa,” Rielly explained. “We really wanted to create a place just for them. It’s going to be open for other kids and it’s going to be open to the public, but this is the real purpose of the Santa House.”
The Santa House is Rielly’s 10-year passion project, and one that he’s dedicated to his late grandfather.
Rielly described his grandfather as Rhode Island’s own Santa Claus.
It all started during the Great Depression.
“When he was 19, he came across a family of 13 living in an abandoned chicken coop,” Rielly said. “He went around town and gathered what he could. He got some oranges and some candy … he then cobbled together some sort of Santa suit and went to deliver Christmas to them.”
Rielly said the Santa House was built solely by volunteers, and isn’t designed to make a profit.
“This is not a business, it’s a gift that I’m giving to my community,” he said. “I’m a fourth-generation Bristolian and I love my town.”
The Santa House, according to Rielly, is a continuation of his grandfather’s mission — to bring the spirit of Christmas to everyone.
“We do it for the love of children and for the smiles … that’s our payment,” he said. “I feel like I’m creating memories not only for the children, but also for their families … and that’s really what’s rewarding for me.”
The Santa House is located at the corner of State and Thames streets. Those interested in visiting are encouraged to check the Santa House schedule online beforehand.