'Secret Santa' leaves 2-year-old girl in Wales gifts for the next 14 Christmases

The colourfully wrapped presents were from Mr Ken Watson, a neighbour who died recently in his 80s. The family plans to open one present a year until the girl is 16.
The colourfully wrapped presents were from Mr Ken Watson, a neighbour who died recently in his 80s. The family plans to open one present a year until the girl is 16.PHOTO: TWITTER / OWSWILLS

LONDON (NYTIMES) - As an adult, Mr Owen Williams had long stopped believing in Santa Claus. But this week he regaled Twitter with the tale of a secret Santa in Wales: a neighbour who left his young daughter 14 years of Christmas gifts.

The neighbour, Mr Ken Watson, was a widower and Renaissance man who had become fond of Mr Williams' 2½-year-old daughter, Cadi. He died recently in his 80s.

It is not clear why Mr Watson chose to give Cadi 14 years' worth of Christmas presents, but her parents told the BBC that he had "doted" on her.

Mr Watson had two children of his own but no grandchildren, and he showed grandfatherly love to the children of his neighbourhood in Barry, in southern Wales, including by spoiling them with gifts, the news site WalesOnline reported.

Mr Watson, a former carpenter, baker, salvage diver, competitive parachute jumper and accordion player, had been writing a novel before he died, according to Mr Williams, the head of social media for BBC One and BBC Wales.

On Monday, Mr Williams recounted opening the door to his home in Barry to find his neighbour's daughter standing there and clutching a sack filled with colourfully wrapped presents that Mr Watson had bought for Cadi.

"He always told us he'd live till he was 100 years old," Mr Williams wrote on Twitter, "so these gifts would have taken him up to our little girl's 16th Christmas."

After the initial shock, Mr Williams said, he and his wife, Caroline, were faced with a conundrum: Should they open all the presents right away and re-wrap them to be given out in age-appropriate order, or should they give their daughter one randomly picked gift from Mr Watson each Christmas?

"My wife and I think it might make a nice Christmas tradition to give our daughter 'a present from Ken' for the next 14 years," Mr Williams wrote. "Issue is, we really have to open them now. Nobody wants to give a fifteen-year-old Duplo!" - a reference to a maker of toys for young children.

The couple turned to Twitter to settle the question, garnering 67,022 votes in a poll. The verdict: The Williamses should leave the presents as they are, and dip into the offerings once a year until Cadi is 16.

Curiosity did get the better of them, Mr Williams revealed, and they have already opened a first gift.

Cadi received "Christmas Eve At The Mellops'", a children's book by Tomi Ungerer, wrapped in purple and blue paper.

News of the gift soon made its way to the author of that book, whose team contacted Mr Williams.

"Tomi was really touched by the story," Mr Williams wrote on Twitter, "and would love to sign the book."

Cadi is still in the dark about it all.

"She's too young to understand," said her father, who acknowledged in a Twitter exchange on Wednesday that he was overwhelmed by the media attention his story had received.

"But we'll certainly be heeding the results of the Twitter poll and turning Ken's Christmas miracle into an annual holiday tradition," he added.

More than 39,000 Twitter users had liked Mr Williams' initial tweet by Wednesday, but several people said they were, frankly, bewildered by Mr Watson's generosity.

Perhaps there's one explanation for the close rapport the Williams family developed with its neighbours.

"We took a bottle of wine round to each the day we arrived," Mr Williams explained. "Easiest way!"