I had the pleasure of attending the “Celebrate Santa” convention back in March of this year. There were about 400 portly gentlemen attending to trade secrets on how to be a better Santa. I took all the knowledge collected at this gathering, mixed it with my own and have come up with ten tips on how you can be a great Santa. Read them now and start practicing for this holiday season. It will be time very well spent.
You Have a Major Responsibility
Being Santa Claus carries a lot of responsibilities. People see a good looking Santa and want to believe the best. A Santa in a cheap outfit that takes no pride in what he’s doing makes Christmas bad for the rest of us. If you’re going to be Santa, do it correctly from the beginning.
I decided to try and be Santa to further the Christmas experience for all the kids that would stop in front of my house to watch the lights. The local department store had a “Santa-in-a-box” outfit for $29.95. The suit was made of a bright red corduroy imitation material with some sort of white fuzzy stuff for trim. The jacket had no buttons and you put it on like a t-shirt. The pants had a drawstring for a belt. The wig looked like a bunch of cotton balls glued to a skullcap. You attached the white eyebrows with double-faced tape and the beard was a strip of white imitation fur with an elastic strap to go over your head.
I knew I was in trouble the first time I put that suit on. I looked at myself in the mirror and considered how non-Santa-like I looked and felt. I made a few modifications to the outfit by stuffing a pillow under the top to fill it out, wore a pair of glasses and got some white gloves. I figured I was close enough to looking like Santa since it was dark along the street in front of my house.
I didn’t even consider how Santa Claus talks to others. Ho ho ho only goes so far before a child starts to cry or wants to ask a question. I have a vivid memory of stepping outside as Santa Claus, walking down the driveway, seeing a car stop, windows roll down and three kids start screaming for Santa Claus. I thought this was going to be great! I walked to the car, bent down and saw those eyeballs fixated on me. All I could think of saying was ho ho ho. One of the parents said “Look, it’s Santa! Why don’t you tell him what you want for Christmas?” Three kids started talking at the same time and all I could say was ho ho ho. It was a blur after that and all I remember is those kids looking at me with so much anticipation. I needed to work on my act because I surely didn’t make a good first impression. I was a semi-Santa.
For several years, each night I would go outside and try different lines on the children. I soon mastered the way to ask kids what they wanted for Christmas so parents could hear and take notes. I learned how to banter with children and grown-ups yet never commit to any specific gifts. I taught myself how to handle the smallest babies as well as the most obnoxious teenagers. I even learned how to nudge kids back into believing in Santa Claus when they were right on the edge of not believing.
Here are ten tips to be a Santa. They are hard earned and guaranteed to work. Practice each of them and you’ll be a great Santa Claus!
The Secret Ten Santa Tips
1 Get a high quality Santa suit. Go to the Internet and search for “Santa Suit”. You’ll be surprised how many places sell and/or rent them. Prepare to invest at least $250 USD to buy a good package including, zip up jacket, pants, belt, boot tops, high quality beard, wig and a hat. I strongly believe you can’t spend too much for the outfit. It’s just too easy to make a poor impression with a cheap outfit.
A good suit is made of a rich, deep red fabric that people want to touch, trimmed in bushy, stark white fur. The belt should be several inches wide with a huge buckle in the front. The pants can have a drawstring to cinch them and pockets are very desirable to stash the keys when traveling by four wheeled sleigh.
Must outfits come with shoe toppers to make you look like you’re wearing boots. If you don’t have some real Santa boots, make sure you wear black socks and simple, polished leather shoes to go with the shoe toppers. I have a retired pair of plain, fancy-go-to-church shoes I’ve dedicated to Santa footwear. If you have the option of getting the shoes a little large, that’s good, because many times you’ll want to wear thick socks if it’s cold outside or you’re walking around much of the time.
Bottom line: if you look like a real Santa, you’ll feel like a real Santa and have the confidence to act like a real Santa.
2 Accessorize your Santa outfit. Santa is overweight and people expect to see a chubby Santa. If you aren’t naturally big enough to fill out the jacket, stuffing a pillow in your outfit will work, but check the Internet for real Santa padding. The professional padding is more proportional to how real people look, plus it has straps to anchor things down on your body.
Wear glasses, preferably, clear rimless or wire rimmed. In almost every picture you see of Santa, he is wearing glasses. Stay away from glasses with bold frames or you’ll distract from the overall appearance. You should also buy a bottle of anti-fog glass cleaner. You’ll discover that your breath behind a big beard fogs the glasses pretty quick. I always spray my glasses just before Santa makes an appearance.
Make sure you have the best wig and beard available. You can spend $10 for a cheap set and get what you pay for, which ends up distracting from the overall Santa package. You can also spend $200 for a beard and wig made from real yak hair that looks like human hair. Over the years I’ve bought and used more wig and beard sets than I can remember. The best seem to cost $60 to $90. You get stark white hair that is full bodied and is comfortable when you wear it. Unfortunately, you’ll get pretty hot indoors, but at least your hair will look good.
Get some temporary white hair color to cover your eyebrows, mustache or any other facial hair you might have. Most costume shops can provide the hair color in very small bottles. Even though you’re wearing a wig and beard, remember children will be very close to you and looking at everything. If Santa has a white beard and hair, nothing looks worse than non-white eyebrows and/or a dark mustache peeking out.
Buy several pair of white gloves. You’ll be touching a lot of people and many of them aren’t the cleanest in the world. The gloves offer a little protection and add to the overall appearance. When one pair of gloves become dirty, toss them in the washer and wear another pair.
Get at least one bell of some sort to ring. Part of the Santa myth includes the sounds of the season and everyone can relate to bells. I have a couple of wrist bands with several one inch bells attached. You jingle while you walk, wave and move about. People love it! You can also use the bells by shaking your wrist to regain the attention of small children when they start looking elsewhere.
Always carry a small bag filled with individually wrapped candy canes. It’s amazing how people react after talking to Santa and he slips them a candy cane.
3 Talk to the person at their eye level. This is how you tell a mediocre Santa from a great Santa. If you’re walking and a small child wants to talk to Santa, squat down so your eyes are the same level as the child’s. You create an immediate bond. If you’re sitting and a grown-up wants to talk, stand-up and get to their eye-level. Of all the methods Santa uses to make a connection with people, this is the most important.
4 Work on your ho ho ho. Sounds pretty corny, but the audible queue people react to most is Santa’s famous ho ho ho. It has to rumble from the bottom of your stomach and erupt from the mouth as a deep, forceful, yet natural sound. Practice in your car or when no one is around. Record your ho ho ho and analyze the results. Don’t take the Santa sound for granted. It’s a vital part of the whole package.
5 Practice your Santa banter. Many children clam up tight when their parents force them to talk to Santa Claus. Put yourself in their small shoes. Here’s this fat man, dressed in a strange red suit, has too much hair and is wearing an odd looking hat. It can be a little intimidating. For many kids, it is very intimidating.
Here’s a typical conversation:
Santa: “Hi! What’s your name?”
Child: “mumble, mumble, Phil.”
Santa: “Hello, Phil.”
Child: “My name is Bill!”
Santa: “I’m sorry, Bill. I’ve still got snow in my ears while flying down from the North Pole tonight!” (at the same time, you’re tapping the palm of your hand against your ear as if trying to knock some snow out. The child starts to relax.)
Santa: “Bill, what do you want for Christmas this year?”
Child: long pause, a lot of looking around and panic is starting to set in.
Santa: “Bill, I bet you want a new Barbie doll this year.”
Child: “Nooooooooooo! I want (a long list goes here.)”
You’ve put the child at ease by saying something ridiculous and they begin to open up to you. Works every time!
You must also remember Santa Claus plays a vital role for the parents. Many times, just as the child is about to speak, you’ll see one or both parents/grandparents lean in to hear what the child is about to say. Your job as Santa is to repeat whatever the child tells you so everyone can hear. I’ve seen parents actually taking notes. Many times, parents have no idea what the child wants and there’s a look of total surprise when Billy says “I want a Batman outfit” or whatever the trendy toy of the year happens to be. Other times, what the child says won’t make sense, but by trying to repeat it the parent will say “oh, Billy means a red truck.” This re-enforces the gift in the child’s mind.
One of the tricks I’ve learned is to let the child talk as long as he wants. Don’t worry. They’ll usually wear down after a couple of minutes. Many have their Christmas list memorized. Others have to think about it a little. But every child knows when they’re getting the brush off from Santa and that’s bad. Just remember, this is a very special moment for you and the child, so take this opportunity seriously!
Then there are the children with Christmas lists that seem to never end. If you try to stop them before they’re done reciting it, they’ll look pitiful. Sometimes you can break their train of thought by saying “Santa is going to have to get a trailer for his sleigh this year!” The parents will usually take the hint and speed up the child. Whatever you do, be there, look into the child’s eyes, let them know you are totally focused on them and wait till they’re done.
Children around seven or eight are starting to have their doubts about Santa. I’ll let them tell Santa what they want then I ask if they have been good this year? They’ll always glance at their parents with this pleading look in their eyes. I’ll say “I know you’ve been good because I’ve been checking up on you Billy, but…” I’ll pause, put my hand on their shoulder, pull them a little closer and say “your room is always a mess!” The child’s eyes will grow as big as quarters and they will almost always say “How did you know that?” All you have to do is bellow “I’m Santa Claus!” The child is a believer and the parents have something to remind them about!
Then there are the teenagers. Most boys try to act very macho and say they just want a million dollars for Christmas. Santa always replies with “Anything else?”
Teenage girls seem to always come in pacts of three or more. I’ll usually pick the second girl, ask her name and then say “Santa already knows what you want for Christmas this year!” The girls will suddenly become quiet and look at Santa. Then I say “Santa knows this is the year you want a new boyfriend!” All the girls will shriek and laugh. Then I’ll lean in and ask “any chance you date short guys with big noses?” She’ll say something like “Ooooohhhhhh, nooooo!” and I’ll reply “Darn. I’m having a terrible time getting dates for my elves at the North Pole this year!” All the girls will walk away giggling and poking fun at the one girl Santa singled out. They’ll talk about it the rest of the night.
Every forth or fifth child, I’ll let them tell Santa what they want and then I’ll lean closer and say “Sarah, can you do something special for Santa this year?” They’ll look at you with such anticipation because they’ve never been asked that question by Santa. You motion them closer with your finger so you’re just a few inches away. Remember, you’re at eye level. You then say “On Christmas Eve, Santa has to fly all around the world delivering gifts to his favorite boys and girls… and that’s a big job for an old guy like me. Sarah, would it be OK if when I get to your house, I stop, take a little break and maybe have some milk and cookies?” The child will look at you and always say “YES!” Then you ask “Now Sarah, what’s your favorite kind of cookie?” It doesn’t matter what they say, sugar, chocolate, Christmas or gingerbread, you suddenly grab the child with both hands and excitedly say “that’s my favorite, too!” The most amazing thing happens. When you first grab the child they’re scared and then when you tell them you like the same kind of cookies they do, the look of fear dissolves into the most beautiful smile you could ever imagine. That’s something the child and the parents will talk about through Christmas Eve.
I end every conversation by giving the child a challenge. “Now Billy, do you promise to do everything your mommy or daddy asks you to do between now and Christmas? Because if you do, I’ll make sure I leave you something extra special under the tree!” The child will always nod yes and the parents will almost always say “Thank you, Santa!”
6 Be quiet, let them talk but don’t commit. You’ll learn to be a very good listener as Santa Claus but you must be very careful never to promise anything specific. Don’t raise the child’s expectations to something that can’t be delivered.
On occasion a child will ask for something that will make your heart ache. “Santa, can you get my mommy and daddy back together?” “Santa, my daddy has been in the hospital for a long time, can you make him better?” “Santa, my mommy died this year, can you make my daddy happy again?” I’m never real sure how to respond to some of these questions other than to reach out, give the child a huge hug and remind them they are loved very much.
7 Don’t promise a pet. You’ll be surprised how many children want a real dog/cat/rabbit/hamster or some other live pet for Christmas. This is something for the parents to give a child since the parents will usually end up feeding, walking and cleaning up after the animal. Simply say pets don’t travel well in the sleigh from the North Pole and they need to talk to their parents about a present like this. The parents will nod their heads and secretly say “Thank you, Santa!”
8 Make sure every person you talk to gets a candy cane. Since Santa is always carrying a bag with him full of candy canes, he’s always prepared to give one away. I make sure to have all sizes, colors and flavors of candy canes available. I’ll also make sure to say the elves made that candy cane just for them. That candy cane is just one more thing to create a lasting memory with that child.
9 Work differently with babies and toddlers. If you get to talk to a baby that’s less than a year old and scared to death of strangers, they’ll usually look at you if you ring your bell. Then you say “I’ll see you next year, you’ll be a lot more talkative then!” and the parent will giggle and thank you. Toddlers that are almost talking are handled differently. Santa can usually ask “Can you say ho ho ho?” and the parents will start saying ho ho ho. There have been times when the child will say ho ho ho and the parents will respond “those are the first words he’s ever said!” and walk away on top of the world.
The most amazing thing about being Santa is every one trusts you with no questions asked. One year I was Santa at the local hospital and walked into every room to talk with the patients. It didn’t matter how old or sick they were, a smile always spread across their face. I would always leave them a magic candy cane the elves made just for them. There was one year when I was in the new mother wing and walked into a room where a mother had given birth that morning. The room was full of relatives and the baby was being cradled by the mother. Immediately upon seeing Santa, the mother gave me the baby to hold and barked for someone to get a camera quick to take the picture. A total stranger was holding their most precious possession, but that stranger was Santa Claus.
10 Ask for the hug! There’s one last thing to remember and this is the absolutely, most important. At the end of your conversation, open both arms wide and always ask if they want to give Santa Claus a hug. It doesn’t matter how young or old the person is, they will always give you a hug! The grown-ups will walk away and brag they still hug Santa and the kids know they’ve been hugged by someone who loves them.
Getting that hug is the real reason for being Santa Claus!
This article was included in the November 2009 issue of PlanetChristmas Magazine.
By Chuck Smith