For more than half a century, Maritimers have marked the beginning of the holiday season with a telethon that brings together communities to spread a little Christmas cheer.

Christmas Daddies began in 1964 after broadcasters Jim Hill Sr. and Jack Dalton watched a little boy panhandle for money at a Halifax tavern. They were left wondering how underprivileged children celebrated the holidays.

So Dalton and Hill decided to start a telethon, raising $1,500 in the first year. Now in its 55th year, Christmas Daddies has raised more than $31 million to provide gifts and food for Maritime children who need it most.

The pledge-based telethon, slated for Saturday, includes a cast of hundreds of performers, on-air personalities and callers. All of them are volunteers.

All money raised in the telethon stays in the community where it was raised. Last year, 17,000 children across the Maritimes were provided with toys and gifts for Christmas.

One of the most special parts of the telethon: all recipients remain anonymous.

Judy Ellingbo benefitted from Christmas Daddies as a child and again as a single mother. She said that the help meant a “weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”

“I knew I could give my kids the Christmas that they deserved,” she said.

Christmas Daddies is broadcast live from three CTV Atlantic stations in Halifax, Moncton and Sydney. The televised event begins at 11 a.m. local time and lasts until 6 p.m.