How An American Became Santa In A Little Town In France : Parallels An American with a home in the French town of Vimoutiers, in Normandy, looks so much like Santa that the locals want him to play the part.
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How An American Became Santa In A Little Town In France

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How An American Became Santa In A Little Town In France

How An American Became Santa In A Little Town In France

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, right now we're going to check in on an American Santa Claus in France. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley takes us to a village Christmas pageant with an unlikely Saint Nick.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Aurelie Garat, Christmas pageant organizer for the tiny town of Vimoutiers, still can't get over how she found their Pere Noel this year.

AURELIE GARAT: (Through interpreter) I was parking and I saw a nice young man with a beautiful beard sitting in his car on the phone and I said to him, your beard speaks to me. Would you be our Father Christmas this year? (Laughter).

BEARDSLEY: That heaven-sent Santa is 66-year-old retired American photographer Tom Haley, who happens to be fixing up a house he recently bought near Vimoutiers. Haley says he wasn't actually so surprised by Garat's request.

TOM HALEY: For several years now, I'm walking along in Paris or anywhere and kids all of a sudden stop in their tracks like they see Santa Claus (laughter).

Ho, ho, ho.

BEARDSLEY: Dressed in a century-old red felt hood and cape, Haley takes his place in a carriage pulled by a donkey. He's surrounded by children dressed as elves and characters from fairy tales. The joyous party is soon joined by an organ grinder.

After a stop at the retirement home, the little pageant arrives in the town square. There's a Christmas market, and a big comfy chair awaits Pere Noel.

HALEY: They're going to invite the people to bring their kids to have a photo with Pere Noel (laughter). This is quite an experience.

(Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Haley takes each enfant upon his knee.

LUNA: (Speaking French).

HALEY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Six-year-old Luna wants Barbie dolls. Other, less young residents also visit Santa for a talk.

HALEY: (Speaking French).

ANDRE BOURSIER: (Speaking French).

HALEY: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Eighty-eight-year-old Andre Boursier tells Haley how she worked her whole life as a cheesemaker. She refuses to sit in his lap.

BOURSIER: (Speaks French).

HALEY: (Speaks French).

BOURSIER: (Laughter).

BEARDSLEY: But tells him, yes, she still believes in Pere Noel. Haley has a connection to Normandy that goes back to his father who landed here on D-Day Plus 2. He says in the 1990s, he and his father returned and were able to find the farm where his company bivouacked.

HALEY: This older gentleman answered the door, and I explained to him what we were doing there and that my father had landed on Omaha Beach. And the guy just sort of broke down and grabbed my father in his arms and hugged him. I mean, it was incredible.

LOUBNA SATKAOUI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Today, Vimoutier has a Muslim community. Like others, Loubna Satkaoui's parents immigrated here from Morocco in the decades after World War II. Satkaoui brings her children out to celebrate Christmas because she says it's important to share in each other's holidays and culture. And she says having an American Pere Noel this year gives them another culture to celebrate. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Vimoutier, France.

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