BROCKTON — Before Sunday, few Brockton residents had ever seen a little town in Ireland called Mullingar.
But as more than 1,500 revelers gathered in downtown Brockton wearing red-and-white Santa hats, they were met with a giant television screen with a grainy video feed straight from the Irish town 50 miles west of Dublin: Thousands of Mullingar residents waved back at them, all clad in Santa hats.
The two towns, once bitter rivals in their attempts to break the world record for the most Santa hats worn in one place, joined forces this year to achieve an even more impressive record: The most Santa hats worn in two continents simultaneously.
It was a feat of collaborative Christmas spirit.
“Look at what that spirit did!” said John Merian, organizer of the Santa Hat Challenge. “It brought two countries together.”
Although numbers from Mullingar have not yet been transmitted stateside, Merian felt confident the combined crowds would be enough to land both cities in the record books.
The Santa Hat Challenge, as the tradition is called on this side of the pond, started four years ago in Brockton as a tribute to James Edgar, owner of Edgar’s Department Store, who made history as the first-ever department store Santa Claus in 1890. It is a claim to fame that Brockton has cherished for the last century.
Merian, a lifelong Brockton resident and one of the owners of Tuxedos by Merian on Main Street, sought to commemorate Edgar’s ingenuity with a pre-Thanksgiving celebration to kick off the holiday season.
In 2009, the town set the Santa hat record with more than 500 participants. But the next year, Merian was shocked to discover that a little town he had never heard of in Ireland had outdone the City of Champions’ record.
Brockton, not to be shown up, came out in full force in 2010 and 2011, garnering nearly 900, then nearly 1,800, participants. But this year, Mullingar approached Brockton with an olive branch proposal: Why not create a new record incorporating both cities?
As children and parents danced and waved in Brockton’s central business district Sunday, revelers did the same in downtown Mullingar.
The live video feed transmitted real-time footage from one continent to the other, so hat wearers could see and hear their counterparts on a large TV screen.
The two towns also plan to exchange gifts. Mayor Linda Balzotti of Brockton said the city will send two books about the history of Brockton, as well as a Christmas tree ornament commemorating the legacy of the first department store Santa Claus.
In return, Mullingar will ship to Brockton what it hopes is the world’s largest holiday card with the most holiday card signatures ever collected.
The two towns have a lot in common: Brockton is the home of the world’s first department store Santa.
Brockton’s department-store Santa distinction has a parallel in Ireland. According to the promoters of the Mullingar event, their town was the birthplace of the world’s first Santa Claus to wear green robes — a now-defunct tradition.
And while the celebrated son of Brockton is boxing champion Rocky Marciano, Mullingar can also lay claim to famous offspring: Niall Horan of the hit pop band One Direction was born and raised there.
Merian said he is already in talks with an Australian city for next year’s Santa Hat Challenge to make it a three-continent celebration.
This year, Brockton’s celebration featured standard Santa hats with fluffy white poofs at the tip, as well as nontraditional iterations.
There was the Boston Red Sox Santa hat, the New England Patriots Santa hat, and the regular Santa hat worn on top of a cowboy hat. Silver and pink sequined Santa hats made an appearance, as did a red Santa hat with leopard-print trim. A dog wore a Santa hat.
Ellie Wentworth, a member of the Downtown Brockton Association, wore a battery-operated Santa hat that, when turned on, flipped back and forth to the tune of “I Want Candy.”
“I don’t know how long the batteries will last,” joked Wentworth, 73. “Probably longer than me!”
At 1 p.m., as organizers finalized the tally of Santa hats in downtown Brockton and a photographer in a cherry-picker snapped shots of the crowd, sound from the static-filled television livestream from Mullingar finally burst through the stereo system.
“Mullingar, can you hear us?” Merian bellowed.
Then, through the din, came a sonorous voice with a thick Irish accent: “Hello, Brockton, Massachusetts!” said the Mullingar announcer. “We are now live in the U. S. of A!”