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The 84th Annual School Lessons For Santas Don’t Just Stop At “Ho, Ho, Ho”

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Back in 1931, millions of Americans were introduced to the modern Santa Claus through Coca-Cola ads featuring a bearded, rosy-cheeked man wearing a red suit with white trim. . Santa Claus soon began to appear around the country, often in department stores to attract parents and children and boost sales. Random employees are regularly brought into service.

In 1937, Santa Claus at the Rochester, NY department store and full-time dairy farmer Charles W. Howard were surveying the Christmas scene and decided someone needed to improve the number of Santas. Noel. Thus began another seasonal tradition: an annual school where aspirants could learn the art of personifying Christmas. The average Santa Claus lacks quality clothing, is not trained in how to interact with frightened or frightened children, and does not know about topics such as how to properly care for reindeer (children often ask questions). about Rudolph).

Howard, who spent 18 years as the world’s most-seen-seeing Santa in the climbing buoy of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, teaches just such things. He transferred his school to a colleague from central Michigan before his death in 1966 – which is why the 84th annual course of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School began for three days in May. 10 in Midland, Mich. , about 125 miles northwest of Detroit.

“We are here to build the Santa spirit in your heart,” promises Tom Valent, the 71-year-old school superintendent who has appeared as the local Santa for 47 years. He’s speaking to 200 Santas and Clauses across the country in a community center auditorium that (coincidentally, Valent insists) has bright green chairs and a ruby ​​red carpet.

Students relax during a trip to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, a retail store in Frankenmuth, Mich. The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School began in 1937. Thomas Cortemeglia of Nashville gets into the holiday spirit at Santa Claus School. Robert Auer and Debbie Auer in Pelham, Ala. The wind in the night. This is the first year the couple attend the same school. Robert has been playing Santa Claus for 20 years, and Debbie started playing Mrs. Claus 5 years ago. Students, from left, Jeff Wertz of Toledo; Ken Matuszak of Bowling Green, Ohio; and Randy Wheelock of Traverse City, Mich., visit with a reindeer at Santa’s House in Midland. Carl Raysin of Grand Blanc, Mich., Center, and other Santas learn sign language.

Valentine and his wife Holly – yes, Holly – took over the school from the second operator in 1987. “It has always worked and I have all the confidence in the world that it will continue to function. ,” I said. “I will not tell you that I am the greatest Santa Claus. I do not. I just love being Santa Claus.”

For those who aren’t in the Santa biz, the “craft” itself will seem simple: Now put on your Santa clothes (plus a fat suit if necessary) and crate a room with a bag of toys on his shoulder or sitting on a throne exclaiming “Ho, ho, ho” and asking the kids if they were good all year. However, attendees – who paid $500 in tuition each – immersed themselves in fun facts about the Saint Nicholas legend as well as pro tips on marketing, physical conditioning, spending costs and strategies to answer tough questions posed by curious young people and disruptive adults.

It’s important to answer questions with reasonable fists without spoiling the Santa myth. “I’m a professional liar,” chuckles Michael Beurer, who is set to appear as Santa Claus during the December 4 Christmas parade in Pontiac, Mich.. “Sometimes a kid will test me by asking me if I know his address to deliver presents, and what I do is I start rummaging through the coordinates – 25 degrees North, 44 degrees West, anything – and they say, ‘No, I live at this address,’ and I say, ‘But I’m giving you coordinates from the air. ” “

The sheer breadth of the curriculum, taught by staff volunteers including Valents, is impressive. (Tom Valent says tuition will pay for facilities, catering and transportation for field trips during the weekend.) A voice teacher explains how to keep a hoarse voice right for hot cayenne tea when peak season is approaching. A pair of nurses stopped by to talk about staying healthy with exercise (“What do you call Santa who doesn’t move? Santa pauses!”) and nutrition. One marketing expert seems to have drawn the most interest with the suggestion that Santa is persuading stores to set up photo opportunities in parking lots because pandemic-prepared families don’t flock to malls. mall like they used to do.

Tom Valentine, principal of Santa Claus School. “We are here to build the Santa spirit in your hearts,” he told the 200 Santas and Mrs. A selection of Mrs. Claus’s wigs. Student, from left, Edward Piane of Lockport, Ill.; Tommy Casey of Searcy, Ark.; and Walter Lorenz in Brighton, Mich., during dance lessons. Mike Connor by Bryn Mawr, Pa. Ed Hatz of Lakewood, Calif. Holly Valentine, left, and Tom Valent talk to students at Santa Claus School.

Apparently there is no such concern with virtual Santa visits, which are now so popular that speakers have mentioned sites like Hire Santa, Santa’s Club, JingleRing and Talk to Santa Claus. Beurer, who co-presented a session on that business model, said he made 350 home visits through Zoom last year. Usually, he chats with parents first to find out details about the kids, then can wow them in ways he can’t appear in public.

“In one case, the sister started not believing in Santa,” says Beurer, “so my parents gave me information about her and I said, “Olivia, I love the cosmetics you bought. How did you bring it to me for Christmas last year? ? ‘ And she looked so surprised, like, Wait a minute, this guy could be real. ”

Most Santas and Mrs. Clauses say they don’t participate for the money, but some school attendees are not only fascinated by the holiday spirit but also by the – unconfirmed – rumor that some You learn to bank six-figure sums each season. Michael Godfrey of Pahoa, Hawaii, 38, the youngest participant, said his mother often told him he looked like Santa Claus (he was stocky but without gray hair or a particularly full beard) and you should try. “I did all sorts of things: computer technician, delivery driver, taxi driver, jobs that were always so low that it never got anywhere,” Godfrey told me. “There is a lot of potential to be a professional Santa. A startup Santa can make between $25 and $75 an hour depending on where they work.” (Valent says he doesn’t know anyone who got rich to be Santa.)

As with any meeting of like-minded people, close friendships are just as important as what is on the official agenda. Robert Auer of Pelham, Ala., says local Santas can often be unfriendly, “because you’re either taking away their business or they’re taking away yours. ” At Santa’s School in Midland, everyone – teachers and students alike – seems ready to share tips. “I’m telling you,” he said, “there isn’t a single mean Santa in the crowd.”

Douglas Billings in Lexington, Tenn., Outside Santa’s House. A hair of Santa Claus. Ken Matuszak learns how to fly reindeer. Charles and Eileen Przybylo in Rockwood, Mich., Walk to the Polar Express carriage in Midland. Tom Valent took over the school from its second operator in 1987. “It has always worked and I have all faith with the world that it will continue to function,” he said. “I will not tell you that I am the greatest Santa Claus. I do not. I just love being Santa Claus.”

Auer admits he’s nervous about chatting with Santa’s schoolmates, many of whom attend the annual show and know each other. Then Holly Valent, resplendent in a tattered red velvet gown decorated with cotton white cuffs and a matching shawl, strode across the stage as Mrs. Claus and demanded to go first. About 200 people obediently stood back and blasted out in unison with a performance of “Jingle Bells” that was so fun and in tune that it sounded like a recording. But, no, as with most beards that reach to the chest and belly like jelly bowls, it is real. “I looked around this room and didn’t see anyone who wasn’t singing,” Auer said. “And that’s really pure joy.” In other words, true to the spirit of Christmas.

Steve Fries is a writer in Detroit.

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