Santa & Friends: Local volunteers spread Christmas cheer to kids living at orphanages

Over one hundred volunteers converged at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium on Sunday, December 10 to celebrate the holidays with hundreds of children from Nagoya orphanages for the annual Santa and Friends Nagoya (SFN) Christmas event. In the spirit of giving and the holiday season, nearly 200 children from Jiyugakuen, Komagata Ryo, Nanzan Ryo, Nahiro Aijin, and Wakamatsu Ryo were treated to a day packed with activities that included Olympic-style competition, live music, lunch and a visit from a very special jolly man toting gifts for everyone.

The children arrived at about 10am but the event started several hours earlier for the volunteers, especially the founder of SFN, James Hedden, who commented that “This year was one of our best”, speaking through hoarse tones that reflected the day’s excitement. “We had a strong and diverse turnout of volunteers and the kids had a blast. It’s all worth it; the time we put in, the volunteers and organizations that help us along the way. At the end of the day the kids are extremely happy, the volunteers all leave with a feeling of fun and fulfillment, and best of all, we can all interact and enjoy the holiday spirit of giving, there’s nothing better”.

From as early as 4am, Hedden and others were packing vehicles with supplies and gifts bound for the venue. By daybreak dozens of people were on hand preparing the gymnasium for an Olympics-inspired event, while others oversaw the preparation of hundreds of bento lunches provided with the help of Shooters Sports Bar and Grill in Fushimi. Soon after the gymnasium became a hive of activity that would welcome groups of children 5-18 years of age, who were divided into groups of ten to represent different countries then marched in the official Olympic parade (anthems and all!) and competed in various activities such as an Olympic-style obstacle course, relay races and a tug of war. During this time volunteers constantly interacted with and encouraged members from their group, with a focus on fun and enjoyment. The competition heated up as well, with all keeping pace for a shot at gold.
All these great moments aside, no SFN holiday event would be complete without a visit from St. Nick. Having received “Letters to Santa” some weeks before, the big fella (and SFN volunteers) knew just what topped each kid’s Christmas list. With a kind request to ‘keep things affordable for Santa’, each child listed their favorite gift ideas in the ¥3,000 range.

After lunch, live music was provided by The Sound Web, and everyone cheered into the gymnasium with a round of Jingle Bells. After some Q&A time with Santa-san, the children tore into their gifts and discovered that Santa got it right yet again. The latest tech like toy helicopters were oft-requested as were sporting goods, manga and clothing. A few of the older children asked for home items, as they prepare for graduation and living on their own.
By 17:45 you would not have known the frenetic and excited energy of 300+ children and volunteers which filled the gymnasium just a few minutes earlier. Floors swept, equipment neat and tidy, the PA system, a collection of tightly wound cables and boxes on the floor, and tons of gratitude are all that remained. To all the SFN Leaders, Santa, the volunteers and local businesses that made this possible, it was a very merry day indeed.

The next SFN meeting & Shinnenkai is Jan 20.

Santa and Friends Nagoya visits local orphanages every month. For more information or to register and volunteer visit

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