At one point or another, either here in my blog, or somewhere in the forum, I'm certain that I have mentioned that I am a Toastmaster. Currently a member of two clubs, as well as being the co-manager of the District 37 Bookstore. This evening, I took the opportunity to present a speech on the topic of Santa Claus. This is the text that I had written out yesterday. Much of what I presented was extemporaneous. The speech was scheduled to go 15 - 20 minutes, for the project "Speaking to Entertain". I hit 20:15, which is just about perfect.
Ho Ho Ho [real belly laugh] Thank you Mr. Toastmaster. Fellow Toastmasters.
By a show of hands, who in this room believes in Santa Claus? [Count hands. Shake head sadly.] This world would be a better place if more of us believed.
Tonight, I’m going to describe my experience as Santa Claus. I will describe how Santa’s are working around the country. Finally, I will convince you why Santa is real.
Last month, I had the opportunity to play Santa at our neighborhood Holiday Festival. Normally, I am not involved in my Homeowners Association’s Social Committee, but leading into the Christmas season, I decided that it was time to attend. During that meeting, a number of topics related to the Holiday Festival were discussed. When the topic of Santa Claus was brought up, the new Board President, who had played the roll last year, stated that he guessed that he could do it again. Everyone looked at him… a clean shaven, fairly trim gentleman, and then they looked over at me. One of the other Board members in attendance said “Why don’t we have Mike as Santa. He’d make a good Santa!”
Two weeks later, it is time for the Holiday Festival. I arrived early to help set up the event, which was to be held in the community pool parking lot. The borrowed Santa suit was hidden inside the fenced off pool area, behind the pool house. As the time for the festival approached, I slipped through the gate to don the suit.
Santa suits are designed to fit over normal clothing. However, it isn’t easy to put on. The jacket isn’t too bad, but the Santa pants require taking off your shoes… in my case, cowboy boots… donning the bulky Santa pants, pulling the fake Santa boot tops on, donning shoes or boots under the boot tops, and then draping the boot tops over the shoes or boots. Can we say awkward? Since I am not particularly flexible anyway, this contortionist act took me about 15 minutes, and left me winded. Finally, more or less ready, I circled around the back of the pool house to emerge in the parking lot, where the members of the community were beginning to gather.
As arranged, a picnic shelter had been set up with a chair for Santa, along with camera equipment one of the residents who was a professional photographer was supplying. After I had settled in, with a bowl of candy canes to one side, children of the community were brought forth one by one.
"Ho Ho Ho. What’s your name little girl?" "Have you been a good little boy this year?" "What would you like Santa to bring you this Christmas?" I’ve never taken formal Santa training, but I had these basics down. I learned quickly that there are three types of children… generally divided by age.
The young ones, up to about 2 or 3 years old, don’t want to have anything to do with this big, mean looking man in a funny red suit. As often as not, they’ll scream their head off. I guess dealing with this group is something that they teach you at Santa School.
The second group, slightly older, and up to about 6 or 7 years old, are the true believers. Santa is not only real, but they get to meet him! These are the kids that are the most fun to work with, since they take the situation seriously. I know that I could improve my interactions with youngsters of this group, but I enjoyed talking with them.
The last group of kids were the older ones. They are the ones who are skeptical about the whole Santa thing. Generally, the only reason that they go through the motions is that they have younger siblings who still believe. That’s OK. I don’t mind that they think I’m not the Santa Claus of legend.
There was a fourth group who I interacted with as Santa Claus that day. That was the adults at the festival. You would not believe how many grownups wanted their picture taken with Santa! We even had a group of firemen that came on a firetruck as part of the festival that wanted their picture taken. I know that they knew that I was just a guy in a suit, but it was all fun, and I enjoyed my day as Santa.
Acting as Santa can be a lot of fun. But it can also be a business. Every year, malls and large department stores around the country host Santa to greet children and take photos. This trend, which started in the 1930s, has become a cultural norm. More recently, as the lines for Santa at malls become longer and longer, some Santa’s have found work appearing at various community and business events, or even performing home visits.
Regional, National, and International Santa Organizations provide a social network for people who work as Santa, Mrs. Claus, Elves, and Reindeer Handlers. The handout that I have passed around is the monthly newsletter from one such organization, the ClausNet Gazette, generated by the members of ClausNet, a group of over 2,400 Santa’s and related people. Other Santa organizations include IBRBS, the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, MOTS, the Mystic Order of Traditional Santas, and AORBS, the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.
Santa training is available from a several Santa schools, both in person, or electronically. Some of the Santa schools include The Santa Claus Conservatory, the Northern Lights Academy, Schools4Santa, and the original Santa Claus School.
Santa gear is available from any number of stores for a wide variety of prices, from a cheap Walmart Santa polyester outfit to custom made lined velveteen suits costing thousands of dollars.
Santa performers can expect to earn adequate remunerations for their efforts, with Santa’s potentially earning $10k - $50k in a Christmas season. Santa Ed Taylor in Southern California rakes in over $100k doing Santa year round, including Television commercials and similar work.
Of course, not every Santa is in it to earn a living. Santa Johnathan, in Northern California, spends an entire day every year at San Francisco’s Childrens Hospital. Santa Schwindy, Tom Schwindenhammer in Pennsylvania, accepts donations for the Northampton Food bank and area families in need. Santa Nick, Mark Ramsey out in Oregon, brought in over $65k of charitable contributions in 2016, doing Corporate events and home visits, all of which was donated to charity.
Will I play Santa again? You betcha! I fully intend to move into full Santa mode over the coming year… acquiring proper Santa training and purchasing my own Santa suit as funds permit. I know that I won’t be bringing in the big money that some of the other Santa’s out there do any time soon, but if I can cover most of my expenses while I gain experience and make some children’s Christmas merry, I will be satisfied. Once I get my bearings, I expect that I can do charity work in addition to the paid opportunities.
Is Santa real? I believe he is. He may be a conglomeration of ideas handed down through the generations, from Saint Nicholas, a 4th Century Greek bishop of Myra, to the Coca Cola advertisements of the 1930s, but he represents an ideal. An ideal that we can bring happiness to people, young and old. An ideal that it is better to give than it is to receive. Santa is as real as any one of us who is willing to put the time and effort into portraying the jolly old elf and making children and adults happy, either for pay or for charity.