Today is the 110 year anniversary of Jim Rielly’s birthday. Born in 1908, James (Jim) D. Rielly was a lifelong resident of Bristol Rhode Island. His love for country and community was immediately evident when you met him. In many ways, he was Bristol’s unofficial Ambassador. To paraphrase Yeats: There were no strangers to Jim Rielly; only friends he had not yet met.
Jim Rielly was well known throughout Rhode Island and much of New England for his generosity and countless charitable acts; but most notably, Jim Rielly was known as Rhode Island’s most famous Santa Claus.
His first appearance as Santa Claus was in 1927 at the beginning of the Great Depression. At the age of 19, the young Jim Rielly portrayed Santa Claus for a family living in an abandoned chicken coup. For the next 62 years, Jim Rielly would continue to appear as Santa Claus wherever he was needed, but primarily at charitable events, nursing homes, hospitals, orphanages, military bases, and private homes.
James D. Rielly died on November 26, 1991 at the age of 83.
In honor of his kindness and charitable works, the James D. Rielly Foundation was established to preserve his legacy by providing charitable support to the children and the families of military and first responders hindered by economic status, physical or mental challenges.
Please consider making a donation to the James D. Rielly Foundation. Your donation is 100% tax deductible and will help bring unconditional love, hope, and joy to needy children and families.
Throughout his career, Jim Rielly received numerous letters of recognition from celebrities and dignitaries. We came across this announcement in the archives of the Bristol Phoenix. From the April 27, 1972 issue of the Bristol Phoenix.
James D. Rielly Awarded Citation
James D. Rielly well known for his roles as Santa Claus and Charlie Weaver was the recipient of an official citation from the Rhode Island House of Representatives last week.
The citation, proposed by Rep Gaetano Parella, and signed by the Speaker of House and the Secretary of State, offers sincere congratulations to Mr. Rielly and is awarded “in recognition of his bringing joy and laughter to the sick, retarded and elderly.
As we continue to go through our archives of past news articles on Jim Rielly, we will post them here. Yesterday, we came across this article from a December 1957 issue of the Providence Journal-Bulletin.
The Real Santa in Bristol County is (ssshhhh) James D. Rielly
To become Santa Claus takes more than a white beard, red suit and sack full of gifts; the real Santa Chars must have an honest love for his fellow men. In Bristol you will find a real Santa Claus.
About 30 years ago, James D. Rielly stuffed his first pair of red trousers with the pillows to acquire the portliness of Santa. Time and appetite have eliminated the need for pillows, but the month of December still finds Mr. Rielly standing in red trousers.
Mr. Rielly buys very few of the gifts he passes out during the Christmas season. The real Santa Claus depends on others to provide the gift-wrapped parcels that are found beneath the Christmas tree. All Jim Rielly provides is that unnamed thing that helps an oldtimer recall a warm and happy memory of times past, or the nervous smile of delight that floods a youngster’s face when confronted by Santa Claus.
This is what the real Santa Claus gives at Christmas-time. Jim Rielly gives of himself at Christmas. The sack slung over his shoulder is always overflowing with good cheer. Whether he is stopping at a lonely lighthouse or at a party for shut-ins or at a children’s party, his eyes twinkle brightly as he peers over the tops of his silver rimmed spectacles.
His suit was tailored by a friend; his boots, spectacles and even the fur trim that edges his jacket were gifts. His beard was a Christmas present from his wife.
When asked why, Jim Rielly will tell you he becomes Santa Claus at Christmastime because it is the best thing he can give. You won’t find Jim Rielly enthroned in a department store, but you will find a Jim Rielly in the true spirit of Christmas.
For Jim Rielly gives the best thing he can at Christmas. He gives himself.
What are your memories of Jim Rielly? Please share them. We would love to hear from you!
During the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon for wearers to don multiple rings, each signaling a different aspect of identity, from social class to political affiliation.
Last month, Dekel Ben-Shitrit, a 26-year-old gardener, found a 700-year-old bronze ring bearing an engraved image of St. Nicholas. The ring was studied by Dr. Yana Tchekhanovetz, an expert in Byzantine history at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
“This special ring is amazingly well preserved and will contribute a great deal to science,” she explained, in a statement. “On the ring is the image of a bald man with a staff next to him. On preliminary examination, this seems to be St. Nicholas holding a bishop’s crook – his hallmark.”
Christian pilgrims to the Land of Israel from all over the Byzantine Empire (Turkey, the Balkans, Greece and present-day Russia) would carry his icon to protect them from harm. It is probable that the ring belonged to a pilgrim who sought the protection of St. Nicholas on his travels.
We found this while going through the archives at the Bristol Phoenix. From the December 9, 1952 edition of the Bristol Phoenix:
For servicemen away from home at Christmas, James D. Rielly today made an appeal. He would like to see Bristol families who will have an empty place at their Christmas table, invite some lonesome servicemen and make him feel at home although he may be miles away from it.
We continue Jim Rielly’s work today by working closely with local veterans and military family support groups in our community.
On January 31, 1979 — thirty-nine (39) years ago today, Senator Claiborne Pell entered Jim Rielly’s name to the United States Congressional Record.
In 1979, Jim Rielly was celebrating 51 years of donning the Red Suit. Jim went on to portray the Jolly Old Elf for the next 12 years, making him the longest running Santa Claus to date.
JAMES D. RIELLY – TRULY REMARKABLE “SANTA CLAUS: FROM RHODE ISLAND
Mr. President, before the pleasures and memories of the recent holiday season slip our minds completely, I would like to share with my colleagues a tribute to a truly remarkable “Santa Claus” from Rhode Island.
I am referring to Mr. James D. Rielly of Bristol, R.I. This past holiday period marks the 51st year in which Jim Rielly has donned red suit and white whiskers and with a large bag of goodies has visited hospitals, senior centers, and children’s centers throughout the East Bay area of Rhode Island.
His is a particularly effective and welcome presentation of Saint Nicholas because Jim Rielly is himself the personification of the spirit of cheerful, selfless giving of oneself for the benefit of others.
I am proud to be among the many thousands of Rhode Islanders who claim to be good friends of Jim Rielly, and I join all of those friends in the mutual hope that Jim will be bringing his special brand of seasonal joy to Rhode Island for many years more years.
In 2010, Jim Rielly was entered into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame in recognition of his extraordinary selflessness and kindness, and his contribution to the Santa Claus community.
WARREN, R.I. (WJAR) — The Warren Fire Department, along with volunteers, made the holiday season a little more merry and bright for a family of six. And it was all a big surprise.
“I first was told to put on my shoes, and then I heard the sirens,” Chloe Durand told NBC 10 News Wednesday night. “And then I saw Santa Claus.”
Santa was happy to help.
“You’ll be unwrapping for weeks,” he told the family.
The truth is, it’s been a hard year for the Durand family. About eight months ago, Maya Durand was hit by a car. She suffered two broken legs. While she is lucky to be alive, the crash ultimately put their family through financial hardship.
“We just had struggles from there on out,” Sarah Durand said. “And, so this is unbelievable.”
But in this special moment, Chloe, Maya, Jonna and the youngest, Wyatt, forgot all their troubles.
“Thank you doesn’t seem enough to say,” Sarah said.
They were swept with joy – and even Santa got emotional.
“It did bring a little tear to Santa’s eyes his year,” he said.
The James D. Rielly Foundation coordinated the efforts.
James D. Rielly Foundation Helps Santa Visit Those in Need
There’s a real life Santa Claus living right here in Rhode Island. Michael Rielly is from Bristol, Rhode Island, and he donates his time and talent to those who are in need by making appearances as Santa Claus.
Representing Santa is a Rielly family tradition that was started by Michael’s grandfather, James D. Rielly, during the Great Depression.
This year, Michael established a nonprofit in his grandfather’s name to preserve his legacy and continue his work of spreading holiday cheer. According to the James D. Rielly Foundation website, jdrfoundation.org, “In 1928 at the age of nineteen, Jim Rielly appeared as Santa Claus for a family living in an abandoned chicken coop. For more than sixty years, he would bring cheer to orphanages, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, churches, charitable organizations, military bases and the Rhode Island State House.”