[This is the first in a series of posts on the real Santa Claus by Adam English, the author of the new book The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]
One time, as a personal favor to a good friend, I agreed to don a Santa suit and sit for pictures with children at the public library. The children were all under the age of two, which was fortunate for them, because anyone over that age would not have been fooled by my get-up. I was not Santa Claus – not even remotely close. I was a skinny, thirty-something guy dressed in an oversized Santa costume with a fake white beard strapped to my face.
As I sat there, lost in the folds of my costume, I felt ridiculous. And make no mistake, I looked ridiculous. I made only one attempt at a jolly “Ho-Ho-Ho.”
But, the experience caused me to ask: What does it take to be Santa Claus?
Anyone can buy a costume off the Internet, but this alone does not make one Santa Claus. Those who have ever tried to play the part quickly realize there is much more to it. Some have felt the need for training, practice, and certification. Santa Claus academies, institutes, and workshops have sprung up to meet those needs.
One example is the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School of Midland, Michigan. It claims to the longest running school, having been in operation since 1937. Students learn the “proper dress and use of make-up,” “Santa sign language,” “live reindeer habits,” and “flight lessons.” Similar schools for training exist in Alberta, Canada, Atlanta, Georgia, New York, Australia, Norway, and Ireland.For those who cannot make it to class, I found a list of “Do’s and Don’ts of Santa Clauses” from the Santa Claus Research Committee, circa 1940. I was especially intrigued by some of the “Don’ts”:
- Don’t Fall Asleep While on the Job
- Don’t promise children something they might not get
- Don’t drink, smoke or chew on the job
- Don’t accept money from a parent in front of a child
All perfectly reasonable expectations. We can’t have Santa drinking or falling asleep on the job, now can we? In the next few blog posts I want to appeal to the original Santa Claus for help. I will draw from the lessons I learned about Saint Nicholas while writing The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus to help us as we move closer to Christmas Day.
Adam C. English is Associate Professor of Religion at Campbell University where he teaches philosophy of religion, constructive theology, and the history of Christian thought. He lives near Raleigh, North Carolina.