Yes, Virginia, That is a Real Beard
Monday, December 24, 2007
By Marie Dougherty
And this Kaysville Santa has grown his own since 1999
Red suit? Check.
But what about the beard?
And it's real.
To Matty Ross, there's no other kind.
The 50-year-old Kaysville resident sat on his couch and stuck out his chin while his wife held a measuring tape.
"It's a good 9 inches," Shelley Ross said.
She measured from the bottom lip, because that's how Santas do it.
Matty Ross is new at the whole Santa thing, but he's learning from an international group of more than 1,300 Santas with bona fide whiskers. He's a member of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas.
That's right, there's a fraternal order whose members have transformed themselves into the jolly old elf. They carry candy canes year-round and hail Tim Allen's performance in "The Santa Clause."
The real beard is a must, but that's no problem for Ross.
"I hate shaving with a passion," he said, explaining that he hasn't done so since 1999.
As time went by, his dusty red beard mixed with a little gray to create "cinnamon and sugar," he said. So for years, people have been commenting that he looks like Santa Claus.
Two years ago, the wheels started turning.
"Just kind of testing the waters, I would wear a red sweatshirt and a Santa hat," he said.
When he got a positive response, it occurred to him: "I think I can pull this off."
But cinnamon and sugar wouldn't do, Ross said. His beard had to be white, so it had to be bleached.
Instructor Denise Johnson, from Fran Brown College of Beauty, said the older a man gets, the better his chances are of having naturally white hair, although it depends on genetics.
So Ross is not the only Santa who frequents a salon during the holidays.
Davis County is home to another of the Amalgamated Order's members: Hugh Taylor, of Woods Cross.
At age 65, Taylor hasbeen a Santa for 10 years.
He shaves his beard every February, then lets it grow out again in time for Christmas.
Both Ross and Taylor say they are humbled by their role as bearers of joy and the Christmas spirit.
It is a reminder for them to be on their best behavior.
"When you put the red suit on, you become a different person," Ross said.
But not as different as one might think.
Both men seem naturally suited to be Santa Claus. Both seem quite jolly, and they laugh a lot, although it's unclear whether their bellies shake like bowls full of jelly.
Both Santas are used to being around children. Ross has seven of his own, and Taylor has eight.
Taylor is a quiet man who likes to keep the mystery in life.
"I try to keep on a dry humor side," he said. "You gotta have a little twinkle in your eye."
Taylor said that after a decade, his 24 grandchildren are only now finding out about his alter ego.
"It was a well-kept secret," he said.
Taylor has always had a little magic in his life. He entertained as a clown for 30 years before becoming a Santa.
Ross fills vending machines with toys and candy for a living.
"I have an uncontrollable urge to give away toys and candy," he said.
These are men who take pride in putting smiles on people's faces.
But being a Santa is not without its drawbacks.
There are a lot of expenses involved with the venture.
Taylor owns three Santa suits, the newest of which cost $700. A heavy 4-inch leather belt alone is about $80. But he wants to be realistic.
"There is no substitute for the good stuff," he said.
Then there's the price they pay for having all that facial hair.
Ross said it's usually safest to drink from a straw.
"You don't even consider an ice-cream cone anymore," he said, also remembering the syrup he had to wash from his beard after breakfast that morning.
But they wouldn't have it any other way.
There's nothing to match the look on children's faces when they realize it's a real beard.
Real beard means real Santa.
When the children sit on Santa's lap, they are awestruck. They always say they have been good.
"If you've been bad, all you're going to get is underwear," Taylor tells them.
Well, there was the boy who wanted a live alligator for Christmas.
Why? Taylor asked.
So it can come and eat you, the boy said.
"We'll talk to Mom and Dad about that," Taylor said he told the boy.
Sounds like a candidate for underwear.
Real bearded Santas earn anywhere from $100 to $250 for their appearances at events.
Ross said he hopes the Amalgamated Order's eight or so Utah members can form a better network so they can help each other during the busy Christmas season.
After all, even the real Santa Claus has elves.
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