Lockport’s Christmas Cottage is a tribute to Charles Howard, founder of Santa school

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 December 2018 at 1:39 pm

Medina native Christopher Parada runs the popular site at town park

Photos by Tom Rivers: Olivia, 2, meets Santa Claus on Tuesday at the Christmas Cottage in Lockport. Christopher Parada created the cottage and has been portraying Santa at the site the past eight years.

LOCKPORT – Christopher Parada, a Medina native, has been bringing the magic of Christmas to the Lockport community for nearly a decade. Parada created a Christmas Cottage at a town park, and he portrays Santa three days a week at the site for a month right after Thanksgiving.

Parada and his father built the Christmas Cottage that is a popular site, drawing several hundred people to see Santa on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and on Saturday afternoons between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Parada built a 15-by-15 foot cottage with his father Daniel Parada of Middleport. They built the cottage in 2010 at Day Road Park in the Town of Lockport.

Christopher Parada, a 2002 graduate of Medina High School, is active in Western New York theater, and is the executive director of the Historic Palace Theatre in Lockport. He manages the theater and also is a performer, writer and director. He has been part of the Lockport theater for the past 15 years.

Parada sees about 800-900 people at Christmas Cottage each time it’s open, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and then on Saturdays from noon until 3 p.m.

He first portrayed Santa in high school. When he was a teen he learned about Charles Howard, the founder of a Santa Claus School in Albion. He operated it from 1937 until his death in 1966. Parada learned about the local community’s connection to Howard from his late grandmother, Elaine Janele, who was the children’s librarian at the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library in Medina. She created the Santa Claus story hour at the library.

“It intrigued me so much when I found out about this school,” Parada said.

Provided photo: Christopher Parada works as executive director of the Historic Palace Theatre while keeping a busy schedule as Santa during the holiday season.

He has visited the school, which is now in Midland, Mich. He hasn’t been through the class, which is held for a week in October. That is a busy time for Parada in his role leading the Palace Theatre.

He follows the principles taught by Howard for Santas with how he acts and looks. Parada also plays the role for free at the cottage. He accepts donations which he uses for landscaping at the site and for materials.

Parada wears a suit in the style designed by Howard. The suit is made of wool – not velvet or plush. He has a white shawl collar that is about 6 inches wide all the way around, and has a yarn pom pom tassel on the hat. His beard and wig are made of yak hair, which can be styled with a curling iron.

He also followed Howard’s example with a shiny leather belt with a big silver buckle.

Parada said seeing Santa is magical for children. There are about 800-900 visitors at the Christmas Cottage during his three-hour time frames. He doesn’t want to push the kids through too quickly.

When Parada decided to build a Christmas Cottage, he scouted sites in Lockport. He liked the spot at the town park, next to a big parking lot. The park is popular with its playground, soccer field and other amenities.

Parada had a feeling the cottage would be a hit, especially if it was free for families. He saw Santas in the malls where there was a hefty charge for a photo and the Santas didn’t seem to engage with the children.

“It the mall it’s a nightmare,” he said. “People tell me this is so much better than the mall.”

Parada wanted to create a site where people would feel like they’re going into a storybook.

“Santa and Christmas is fun,” he said. “It’s exciting, it’s happiness. The world needs more of that.”

Parada has photos displayed from 1961 by LIFE Magazine when it did a feature on Charles Howard and the Santa Claus School in Albion.

Parada had a sleigh made from an Ohio company he works with in his role at the theater. That company makes props for plays and musicals. Children can climb into the sleigh while they wait to see Santa, who is only a few feet away.

“Some of the kids need a warmup time so they can see that Santa is not a scary guy,” Parada said.

And he included a prominent display about Charles Howard, the founder of the Santa Claus School. Parada has a Howard suit on display, and black-and-white photos from when LIFE magazine visited the school in Albion in 1961. He has other merchandise, including an admission ticket to Christmas Park, a “Family Funderland.”

“I wanted there to be a connection to where the spark came from, where it all started,” Parada said. “For Albion to be home to the Santa Claus School is a really cool thing.”

The display inside the Christmas Cottage includes memorabilia from Christmas Park, which was created by Charles Howard in Albion along with a Santa Claus School.

Parada is Santa at the cottage the first weekend after Thanksgiving until today. He will see several thousand children and families during the month. The site has become very popular. He will arrive to the Christmas Cottage and often there is a long line waiting, well before the doors officially open.

The Christmas Cottage also accepts letters to Santa and Parada makes sure the children all get a response letter.

He works on the landscape throughout the year and had added cutouts and other features, including an overhang leading to the door.

“In the summer I see kids looking through the window,” Parada said. “There’s an element of magic that happens year-round.”

For more on the Christmas Cottage, click here.

Parada is the author of the Erie Canal Elf book, which is available at the Christmas Cottage.

A Charles Howard suit is on display in the Christmas Cottage, as well as information about Elizabeth Babcock, who made the Santa suits.

The Christmas Cottage attracts a long line of families to the Day Road Park in Lockport.

A family is happy to meet Santa at the Christmas Cottage on Tuesday.

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