According to ABC News, more than 70,000 people will don the big red suit and play Santa Claus in malls, parades, office parties and other venues. While a goodly number of individuals take on this noble calling as volunteers, there’s an increasing cadre of professional Santas. Many come from retirees looking to make extra money to supplement their income.
ABC News reports that the income can be sizable: “Santas can make between $20,000 to $50,000 during the holidays, and a few lucky ones rake in $80,000 or more. That’s a good thing, because authentic Santa outfits can cost north of $2,000, and black boots are going for $400 these days.”
For those who are truly committed to the craft, there’s an actual school where aspiring Kris Kringles can hone their Ho-Ho-Hos. Founded in 1937, Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School is a non-profit organization located in Midland, Mich.
The school hosts an annual three-day workshop where students learn a variety of useful information. According to the school’s website, hopeful Santas learn the history of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus; Proper dress and use of make-up. They also gain experience for radio and television interviews, learn Santa Sign Language, gain an understanding of live reindeer habits and even study Santa flight lessons. Beyond lessons in being Santa Claus, the school also has a special curriculum tailored for the would-be Mrs. Claus.
This year the school hosted its 78th annual cohort of students. The tuition for the three days is $400; and there’s a waiting list.
“I tried for five years to get into this school,” Rick Hyman, who’s been a Santa since 1972, told ABC. “This without a doubt is the most exciting time that you’ll ever experience in this life of being a Santa Claus.”
Of course something this whimsical couldn’t be contained in just one country. The school’s website states that the school has been held in Australia, Greenland, and England. Moreover, the school’s current leaders, Tom and Holly Valent, have participated in St. Nicholas festivities in Zurich, Switzerland, Oslo, Norway and Stockholm, Sweden.
Of course, this is how we “Santa.” It should not be lost that other cultures have different ideas about Santa (including what he’s called and how he gets around). Our name for the jolly old elf is an adaptation of the Dutch name for him, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas).
We can thank 18th century Dutch immigrants for Santa Claus, but the Dutch weren’t the only people with benevolent holiday figures. Claus-like figures are popular the world over. Christkind or Kris Kringle delivers presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Christkind (meaning “Christ child,”) is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday rounds. In Scandinavia, Jultomten, another jolly old elf, is thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. In England, it’s Father Christmas who visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats. Whereas, Pere Noel fills the shoes of French children.
Whatever your vision of Santa, the costume and customs are less important than the spirit he represents. He is generous. He takes care of children. He fulfills wishes. He spreads joy to all the lives he touches.
In the immortal words of Clement Clarke Moore: “But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”