Question: Which of the Macy’s Santas, who work in the NYC Macy’s Santaland, get to ride on Santa’s float for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Answer: They all do, or at least invited to. But not as Santa Claus. One of the many costumed or uncostumed characters who ride on, or accompany, the World’s Most Famous Parade Float.
Changes in the Wind
This was to be my fourth year returning as a Macy’s Santa in the Downtown Pittsburgh Store. It was late October and I still wasn’t contacted about schedules or shifts. When I finally was contacted, I was surprised to find a whole lot of changes had occurred.
Gone was the photographer who had done it in this store with his family for over thirty years. Gone were the old Halco Majestic suits that had been worn. And gone was Santaland
This year, a company called Freeze Frame had taken over the business of Santa Claus for Macy’s. Freeze Frame is mostly known for shooting photographs of people as they ride thrill rides in various American amusement parks, usually caught in some terrifying pose as the roller coaster is about to descend in it’s death-defying drop.
Freeze Frame, a Florida company, made an offer that Macy’s couldn’t refuse. Freeze Frame would now completely control the Santaland photo operation in Macy’s stores in New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Next year they will expand to San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.
The idea was to brand the “Macy’s Santa” image. You could go to any Macy’s in any part of the country and see the exact same Santa that appears in the infamous Herald Square store. Truth is, I don’t think any child (or average adult) sees the difference between a Macy’s Santa, Coca-Cola Santa or any other Santa. Santa wears a red suit with a fur trim and that’s that.
Freeze Frame was scrambling to get everything ready in time. Creative Costumes in NYC was contracted to manufacture Santa suits based on the Macy’s in-store Santa Suit. Real leather boots were ordered from Italy. Beard and wigsets, made of genuine yak, were ordered from Atelier-Bassi of Switzerland.
A” Macy’s Santa School” was quickly thrown together and presented to myself and the three other returning Santas. This was a 45 minute video shown on a laptop. School consisted of, 1) Taking care of the Macy’s Santa Beard and Wig, 2) Taking care of the Macy’s Santa Suit. And 3) Make-up. Oh yeah, and a quick how-to about getting kids on your lap, take the picture and get them off your lap in 45 seconds or less. This part of the video was absurdly demonstrated with Santa and an adult and I’ve never seen a Santa visit go that fast in my life. It became clear that this year was going to be less about a good customer experience and more about profit.
The Legendary Suit
The Macy’s Suit was made of wool and unlined. It consisted of a white, poet-style shirt, and wool overhauls with the straps sewn on that fastened on the front with buttons. This was made as a “one-size fits all” that the front buttons adjusted the length of the pants. The wool coat was comfortable and cool, but where the fur attached to the suit was exposed stitching and looked as if it were made in a hurry. The leather belt/harness was very loose-fitting. The tops of the straps were held onto the coat shoulders by the military-style espadrilles that had a snap button to hold things in place. A belly pad was optional; I didn’t need one. Leather wrist straps finished off the coat.
The worst thing about wearing this suit was the hat. It had four bells around the fur trim and the way that the hat sat, there was a bell directly above my left and right ear. Every time my head moved the bells would ring right in my ears. It made it difficult to hear what the kids were saying and the constant ringing in my ears gave me a headache. By the end of my shift, I could still hear those bells ringing long after I went home. I complained about it and nothing was done. After the third night, not being able to take it anymore, I got a screwdriver and when no one was looking, removed the ball bearing out of the two bells above my ears. No one noticed and nothing was ever said about it.
The fact that I had a real beard created a problem. I was asked to wear the yak beard over my own and I refused. Nothing against it, but there was no way that I could comfortably attach that beard and remove it without damaging my own beard that had been carefully colored and styled for the season. They had to send pictures of me with my beard to Macy’s officials to get approval. Macy’s approved and I was able to move forward. A long-standing good reputation surely helped. I was told that I had the only real beard in the system.
Now the Fun Begins...
Freeze Frame may know a lot about taking pictures but they didn’t know much about Santa. They viewed Santa as sort of a fixture to take pictures with. You could put anybody in that red suit (even a mannequin) as long as they got the picture (and the money). I was told more than once that I was taking too long with the kids and had to get the picture immediately.
A funny thing was happening. People were bringing their kids to see Santa and not buying the picture that was taken. What could be going wrong? After all, this was the famous Macy’s Santa, the same one who appears in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and who starred in the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street”. Advertised locally as being the one and only, real Santa Claus. They were scratching their heads, puzzled in amazement. Now was the time for Freeze Frame to learn a little bit about what Santa is all about.
Basic Santa 101
The main reason that parents take their children to see Santa Claus is to give the kids a good, Santa experience. If I’m doing my job right, those parents will relive their own childhood when they see that their kids having a good time, and they have that special glow in their eyes. When a good experience is created, a picture is naturally wanted. People bring their children to Macy’s expecting the best possible experience.
If I rush a little girl onto my lap who is even a tiny bit afraid of Santa, she will cry. If I spend a little bit of time, coupled with a little Santa magic, the child will willingly sit on my lap and smile. Also, parents will not buy a picture if their kids don’t look their best. It doesn’t matter how good Santa looks, the parents are only looking at their own child. Freeze Frame did not understand that.
Has Anyone Seen Santaland?
The fun of Santaland was gone, too. The old Santaland was on the 7th floor. There were reindeer, polar bears and other woodland creatures to look at while you were waiting in line. Santa’s throne room looked like a living room with his chair, other furniture and pictures & decorations on the wall. A nice, pleasant place, it was coupled with the Children’s Very Own Gift Shop and Macy’s Holiday Lane which was their selection of Christmas decorations.
The new “Santaland” was moved to the 1st floor. It consisted of Santa’s throne and one Christmas tree located between the escalator and the perfume counter. Besides the camera equipment and cash register, that was it. It had been determined that Santa on the first floor would be more visible and generate more sales. Once again money was put ahead of the customer and the only thing generated was complaints.
The season opened and the crowds were lining up to see Santa. If a typical visit to Santa is to last 45 seconds for one child, shouldn’t two children be a minute-and-a-half?
The “rush ‘em on your lap rush ‘em off” approach wasn’t working. Children were crying and parents weren’t buying pictures. What could be wrong?
Freeze Frame finally decided to listen to the Santas and the helpers who had been doing the job for years.
Return of “Miracle”
It’s true, there are some kids that will go through in 45 seconds without a hitch. I try to give each child a “good” visit with Santa. That means a little fun, a little laughter, and a smile on every face. Memories are being made. The children that are scared take a little more time. But when I see a scared face turn into a happy one I know I’ve done my job. Happy kids = happy parents and sales go with that. Also, my elves like to take a little time and make sure that hair is in place, dresses are straightened and hands are placed nicely on the lap before the picture is taken. All this makes for a “good” visit with Santa and people are happy.
“We’ll be known as the helpful store, the friendly store,... the store that places public service ahead of profits. And, consequently, we’ll make more profits than ever before.” -R.H. Macy from “Miracle on 34th Street”
This idea holds true today. Service sells. We even had a came up with a place where customers could put their coats and packages. Parents began buying pictures again, and Macy’s reputation for providing quality and service was intact.
I was glad when Freeze Frame decided to listen. It was like when the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day. Pittsburgh became the store with the highest amount of sales per customer visit in the country, and I started to like working for Freeze Frame after all.
I work a lot of private parties and events throughout the season, but I always have a soft spot in my heart for Macy’s and I keep coming back. It’s long hours and low pay and I use it mainly for the nights that I don’t have anything else planned. Since I became hooked on the original “Miracle on 34th Street”, I’ve always wanted to be Santa Claus for Macy’s.
With me, I’m proud to wear the Macy’s suit and enjoy the magic that comes with it.
Getting the Job
Freeze Frame now hires all of the Santas, Elves, Helpers and Photographers for the Macy’s stores across the country that have Santa Claus in them, including New York City. These stores are mostly old, downtown department stores that Macy’s have taken over the past few years and want to keep the local traditions intact. They typically advertise in the Help Wanted section of your local Craig’s List starting around October. They have called back a lot of people who have worked in previous years but always have an eye open for new possibilities.
They hire all races and ages but you must pass a drug test and a background check, which is done at their expense. In New York City, I’m told, they hire a lot of out-of-work actors looking for work for the season.
The pay is lower than what a mall Santa makes and it is preferred that you don’t have a real beard. There is no bonus for making quota. The schedule is very flexible and the job is usually shared between several Santas. It can be very demanding at times, but still can be fun. You will experience many different types of people, both children and adults, and you’ll form memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.
If you have Santa in your heart and like making children happy, you’ll find the joy of working at Macy’s. I know I did.
Was raining outside the other day so all of my outdoor chores were canceled. My wife suggested I clean and organize my closet. This meant phasing out clothes that I no longer wore (or could no longer fit into), and taking the disgards to the local Goodwill.
My closet is also storage for my junk collection. Odds and ends, flea market finds, collectables and not-so-collectables. Things I meant to sell on Ebay but never got the chance. The back of my closet is piled with boxes and the shelf on top is loaded all the way to the ceiling. It's a wonder that I could fit any clothes at all.
This was going to be an all-day project and there was no way I was going to get out of it.
I attacked it without mercy. Shirts, long out of style, had to go. Pants, though never worn, would no longer fit since my waistline had expanded. One bag was filling rapidly and another would soon be needed. Boxes with old newspaper articles and magazines from the 1980's were pitched. I could almost see the back of the closet!
I was pleased with my progress. After all, I would now have room for new collections and stuff that I would gather for the next several years.
One last box to look at. A cardboard box on the top shelf slightly larger than a shoebox. I had written, "Santa's Treasure Chest" on the outside of it, but had forgotten what I put in it.
Now what kind of stuff would Santa keep in his treasure chest?
I had to open the box to see. Sure enough, there was genuine treasure inside. Treasure that was so good that it far outshined gold, silver and diamonds. The minute I saw it, it brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.
Inside was every letter, drawing and Christmas list that every child had ever given to me, sitting on Santa's lap.
"Dear Santa, I would like some books and games and a Webkins for Christmas. And bring my baby brother a teddy bear. I love you, Giannia."
"Dear Santa, For Christmas I would like a Lightning McQueen car and High School Musical on DVD. I have been a very good boy this year - just ask my Grandma. Thank-you, James."
Some brought a lump to my throat.
"Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is for my Daddy to come home. He is a soldier in Iraq and I really miss him. Please Santa? Nathan."
There was artwork of all kinds, from scribbled pages out of a coloring book to elaborate mosaics of Santa made from pieces of construction paper. There were beautiful colored pictures made with crayons that was done with love, care and diligence.
Some of the letters were in fancy envelopes with a bow or a small ornament attached to it.
Looking at all of this treasure instantly took me back to Christmas of last year. I was Santa Claus again, with my red suit, throne and all the settings. I looked at the letters and thought of each child that gave one to me. I can remember children, holding out their letters with pride, but also a little shy about getting too close.
"You wrote me a letter? How very nice. I'll keep this and know exactly what kind of presents to bring you."
"Here Santa, I drew this for you!"
"You drew this for ME? I LOVE this! You are a wonderful artist! Instead of leaving me cookies, I would like it very much if you could leave me some more of your artwork. I promise you, that I will take this back to the North Pole with me and keep it forever!"
And I did. Every letter and every drawing that I received, I promised that I would keep.
Occasionally, a parent would signal to me to sneak the letter or artwork back to them. I would always oblige, knowing how this was important to a parent who wanted to collect as many memories of their child's life that they possibily could, before they grew "too old" to draw pictures or write letters.
But the letters I got to keep became treasure to me, because they brought back memories and feelings of a happiness that I was fortunate enough to experience.
And that made it more precious than gold!
The National Christmas Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, by Santa Johnny Boy
I’m sure there’s many of you out there, like myself, that experience Christmas Withdrawal Symptoms: The depression that is felt when the holidays are over; being the last one in the neighborhood to take down the Christmas decorations, and still playing Christmas music in the privacy of your own home or car. Still hanging on to any bit of Christmas possible. Why does it have to be over so quickly?
It doesn’t !
My wife surprised me with an After-Christmas Getaway, by taking us on a trip a few hours away to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Having never been to Lancaster before, I must say that I was quite impressed with this town. But what fascinated me the most was the National Christmas Center.
Located on the historic Lincoln Highway (Route 30 East), The National Christmas Center is a premiere family attraction with over 20,000 square feet of indoor exhibits - everything Christmas!
Think back to when you were a child at Christmas time. Do you remember visiting downtown store windows, department store toylands and shopping at the local 5 & 10? What about the first time you saw the Nativity displayed at your church? It seemed like the whole world was made of magic.
The magic is back! No matter what decade you grew up in, there is sure to be something here that will stir your memories and emotions and bring back the child inside you.
Like going to a Christmas back in time with all the lights and displays, The National Christmas Center is the brainchild of Jim Morrison, who prefers the name Santa Jr, himself a real-bearded Santa and a card-carrying member of the AORBS Santa Jr, a delightful one to talk to with his many stories of his own Christmas memories, had been collecting Christmas memorabilia since he was a child. Couple that with his years of working for the Smithsonian Institute and you have one first-class, spectacular museum. Also featured are the collections of Judith Murtagh from the American Christmas Museum.
The feeling of Christmas is abundant in the many displays. There is, "Christmas Around the World". You can learn about the customs brought over by the early immigrants as you pass through life-size displays of England, Russia, Holland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Italy. It was their traditions that evolved into the American Christmas as we know it.
You can visit a re-creation of an early F.W. Woolworth’s 5 & 10 complete with fixtures and display cases of that era, packed with toys and Christmas merchandise from the1930's through the 1950's. Coming here made me feel like Ralphie, from "A Christmas Story". There was never such a sense of warmth and beauty in today’s malls and superstores.
"Tudor Towne" is a walk-through, English Victorian-style village complete with cobble stone roads. It contains over 125 animal characters dressed in authentic, Old English-style outfits. Walk through, and an original Christmas Fairy Tale unfolds before your eyes in the form of chapters and scenes.
The memories of a childhood Christmas are well-preserved in, "Toyland". I can remember when my dad would assemble the American Flyer train set under the tree a week or two before Christmas. Being very young at the time, I would lay on the floor eye-level with the train as it traveled it’s course around the track. Looking up, I could see the underside of the Christmas tree with lights and ornaments dangling down, a view not shared by many except for children. The tree would look so huge from that angle; like being in an enchanted forest. That was also the thinking of Santa Jr when he created the Toyland exhibit. Imagine a mountainous, 30-foot diameter train display centered around the trunk of a tree whose branches reach across the ceiling, covered with lights and over 3000 ornaments. As you walk around this huge display, you will also notice the life-sized toy shop windows of yesterday. It was hard to pull me away!
"Santa’s Enchanted North Pole Workshop", is a must see for any aspiring Santa Claus. The level of detail is astounding in this bigger-than-life walk through of Santa’s secret domain. Animated elves are busy at their trade while Santa checks his list for the second time. Polar bears curiously peer in through the windows. Toys are everywhere! If no one’s around, you may want to sneak a picture of yourself sitting in Santa’s chair.
The First Christmas is equally and dramatically represented.
"The Art of the Nativity", features a world-wide collection of creches, some as old as 200 years. There is a room-filling, Moravian Presipio that depicts nearly the entire town of Bethlehem. Appropriately, there are church pews to sit on as you listen to the Biblical account of the first Christmas, while gazing into the panoramic view set across a star-lit night sky. The beauty is breathtaking !
Just when you think that it can’t get any better, you walk into life-size scenes, complete with sounds and life like figures of the Holy Land, historically accurate and with actual ancient artifacts. Travel through Bethlehem on a cobblestone road like it was over 2000 years ago, and see period structures, tools and clothing used by the average citizen of that time. A Roman soldier speaks Latin and an Innkeeper speaks ancient Aramaic. See an Angel appear as if from nowhere to announce to the Shepherds the birth of the newborn King. You will feel what it must have been like, the night that Jesus was born, as if you were a time-traveler coming back to that point in history.
And then, of course, the crowning jewel - a historically researched life-sized Mary and Joseph as they celebrate the Birth of Christ. This is how it might have actually looked as you peer over the shoulder of one of the Three Wise Men into the Manger of a scene that is far more beautiful and humbling than any church that I’ve ever been in. This was quite a moving experience.
There are many other displays that I haven’t mentioned only for matter of space in the Khronical. They are, "Pennsylvania Christmas", "Antique Christmas Emporium", "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa !", "Amish Christmas", ‘Images of Santa" and a 1943 Living Room with Christmas ornaments from that time period and Christmas songs playing on an antique radio. Even the Rest Rooms are decorated and feature framed pictures of old time Christmas ads. Two new exhibits are being built and are planned to be unveiled in Summer of 2007, one of them is being called, "Street of Memories", where visitors will walk past old time department store windows decorated for Christmas. The other new exhibit will be a life-sized tableau based on a 1950's Christmas.
Plan to spend at least three hours here, if you like to take your time to see everything. The National Christmas Center is a self-guided tour and is handicap accessible. For hours of operation and more information, visit www.nationalchristmascenter.com
There are plenty of other interesting things to do and see in Lancaster. Try, "The Strasburg Railroad" (ride an actual, working steam locomotive) , "The National Toy Train Museum", (Toy train collectors hold their conventions in this town) , "Longwood Gardens" ( world-famous, a must for any gardening enthusiast) , and many numerous others. Just Google "Lancaster PA" and see for yourself. There are plenty of hotels, motels and an RV campground all close to the main attractions. Mrs. Claus will especially enjoy shopping at the two, huge factory outlet malls - Rockvale Outlets and the Tanger Outlets. The Elves and Grand Elves will love Dutch Wonderland Amusement Park.
Lancaster is right off the PA Turnpike and there are airports in Lancaster, Harrisburg and Philadelphia. The town is family-friendly and has lots of meeting, hotel and convention space. Don’t just take my word for it; plan to spend some upcoming vacation time here. You won’t regret it!
Enter your email address to subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
The ClausNet community is the largest social network and online resource for Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, Elves, Reindeer Handlers, and Santa helpers for the purposes of sharing stories, advice, news, and information.