BELFAST — A 38-inch-tall downtown Belfast street decoration of Santa, nicknamed “broke-neck Santa” by some community members, has had a cult-like following in the city, according to Our Town Belfast Director Zach Schmesser.

The nonprofit made it into a 5-inch ornament to be sold in four downtown locations to raise money for the organization. Former Fire Chief Jim Richards was honored Nov. 4 as the recipient of the first ornament for his work and dedication to the city for over 50 years before his retirement late last summer.

The event drew a handful of people along with with city officials, including Mayor Eric Sanders, Councilors Mary Mortier and Mike Hurley, and City Manager Erin Herbig.

The Fire Department places the vintage decorations and colored lights along High Street every winter. Schmesser said the decorations are a tradition that community members look forward to and it is an important part of the community’s holiday celebration. They will be sold for $23.75 at Quench, Yo Mamma’s, The Green Store and Colonial Theatre.

This Belfast street decoration, dubbed “broke neck Santa,” is hung from a fire truck at an event unveiling replica ornaments at the Fire Station Nov. 4. Kendra Caruso

The decoration, originally named Master Cletus Clause, is a version of Santa with a tilted head, which some describe as making his neck appear broken, and outstretched arms. Richards bought eight or 10 of the decorations, along with several other decoration designs, in the late ’70s or early ’80s with money donated by the Belfast Merchants, he said.

He said he bought them used for a good price. Generally people like them, but sometimes he would get complaints from someone who thought it was inappropriate. The decoration is supposed to depict Santa as if he were riding in a sleigh looking down upon people.

A city street decoration some call broke-neck Santa is displayed during a ceremony at the fire station Nov. 4. Photo by Kendra Caruso

Richards appreciates being honored with the first ornament, he said. At the event he acknowledged the Fire Department for placing the decorations and lights up every year and said he was probably older than the decorations themselves.

The mayor said the former chief probably has a cult-like following of his own for his more than 50 years’ worth of service to the city. “As silly as this is, it’s not,” he said. “You’re pretty damn important.”

The limited-edition collectable ornament is a way for community members to honor the practice of putting the decorations out every year, a tradition that dates back further than many community members have been alive, Schmesser said.

“I think they’ve become very popular, people look forward to them every year,” he said. “And this is an opportunity for people to have it year-round and bring it to their home and honor the tradition that taken place here in Belfast for a long time, long before Our Town Belfast existed, long before a lot of people can remember.”

A woman looks at ornaments at an event Nov. 4 at the Fire Department. Photo by Kendra Caruso

Photo by Kendra Caruso