One day, through events that are unique and special to you, you decided to become a Santa Claus. Maybe the mantle was passed to you or maybe you just wanted to try on the suit and the idea stuck. Maybe you were a middle aged man of girth with a beard whom neighborhood children pointed at with a certain familiarity. If you were like me, you were asked as a child to perform the role in a Christmas pageant and it stuck with you. In many ways the suit can call. Because you are here it is a good assumption that you answered.
So, you have a suit and a beard of either natural or synthetic design. You belong to a group or two of Santas and maybe you work at a Mall. Perhaps you have been to one of the schools. That is all very good. But it doesn't stop there. What is it that is going to truly transform you into the character of Santa? My friend, the answer might come to you as a surprise. You must prepare.
Easily said, but how does a Santa prepare? Just like with any role that an actor might play (you do realize that because you put on the suit does not mean that you become the true and real article), to go out onto the stage or before the camera without preparation is deadly. A Santa must never go out for his annual rounds without truly preparing. You see, every character needs to be built, nurtured, and developed. This is doubly true with Santa Claus, as there are certain standards that you will be held to by the general public - particularly the children. It is more than a role. It is a matter of childhood hope and trust!
Below are three things that you can do to create a memorable and effective portrayal:
1. Read! Read! Read! - So your wife may think that you are crazy for going to the library at odd times of the year to check out books on Christmas. Big deal! As Santa Claus you are going to need to know what the popular and historic image of every aspect of Christmas and Santa are. It is folly to think that a school that lasts anywhere from a few days to maybe a week is going to teach you all there is to know. Do your research! Create a finger friendly archive for yourself where, if you can't recall an answer to a tough question that a child might ask, you can find it. Read to understand the history and meanings of Christmas and Saint Nicholas. Soak it all in. You are embarking on a mission that has been shared by jolly men for over 1700 years (1000s more depending on your source). Know the accepted and expected facts of the role.
2. Know who you are! - Every actor will usually develop a back story to a character. That story will tell everything from where the character grew up to what kind of bubble gum he likes to chew and more. Lucky for you, Santa has a full back story developed. How do your ideas about Santa match up? Better work this out before the kids work you over about the facts.
3. Brotherhood - That we know, Saint Nicholas had no familial brothers and sisters. That is established history. But the Santa Claus of today sure has. Every man that puts on the suit is now your brother, or sister depending on circumstance. Talk to them, ask them questions, and generally support them as they will be a great support to you. Remember, what you do in the suit reflects on them and vice versa. Behave yourself and realize that we are all in this together.
4. Walk a mile - The old statement says in order to know a man you must walk a mile in his shoes. Do you have to become a toymaker or even a Christian Bishop? No, no. But you do need to know how to give and talk to children. If you really want to learn these valuable skills then take part in a local children's charity or benevolent work. Volunteer! Give of yourself! After all, the greatest and truly the only gift that you will ever give while in the red suit is of yourself. Volunteer, and bring joy and smiles all year long. You will begin to feel like Santa.
5. Christmas Spirit. A Santa who does not know what Christmas is all about is a neglected Santa. I cannot stress enough the need to understand that the Christmas Spirit is not a feeling, but is a Person. The joys, hopes, and miracles of Christmas begin and end with Him - that Baby born in Bethlehem. Not preaching, but know who Jesus Christ is and understand His significance. After all, they named the holiday after Him!
Why do all of these things? Well, it is very simple. To build a house you need a foundation. In the same way, to build a character you need a foundation. Take great care in building a strong one, a good one. You will soon learn as you visit the children that you will constantly draw encouragement and strength from your foundation. So, be sure to make it a firm one and be sure to cling to the authentic, historically proven, kid tested model of what a Santa Claus should be.
In closing, a word of warning. As you grow in the character and community of Santa Claus sometimes it is easy to become careless with the responsibilities connected to the role. You might begin to think that you are the center of it all. You might begin to covet your brother's opportunities and begin to think that you are better than the rest. You might forget yourself and begin to say and do things that are against the image you have worked so hard to create. Remember, an over-developed ego does not a good Santa make. If you see this happening then take a moment and self examine. Fill that crack in the foundation with solid material made of love and wisdom. Remember, you are a servant. Remember, as you serve the children in a pure and loving way (as Santa should) that good will be given to you. You will be surprised at where you might go as long as you remain the Santa that you should be - a solidly built, authentic replica of the Santa of legend. An authentic Santa, the Santa of our childhood, is one that will be cherished.