Sunday, December 2, 2012

Apple #613: Santa Training

Now that we've turned the calendar to December, I thought it was appropriate to start talking about Christmas-related things.  Even though the weather outside is not frightful but more like delightful, Christmas is only a little more than 3 weeks away.  Shocking, isn't it?

I wanted to share with you a little tidbit that I read in a travel magazine.  There are Santa training schools.

The real Santa up at the North Pole does not need any training, of course.  But his helper Santas who walk among us and listen to our gift requests and share many a ho-ho-ho with us--they might have all the good Santa impulses, but since they're not the true-blue, born Santa Claus, they need a little education and practice in the art.  So there are Santa training schools.

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School -- United States

Flight lessons with Dasher and Dancer at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School.
(Photo from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School)

  • Training Santas since 1937, this is the longest-running Santa school in the United States.
  • This school was started by Charles Howard who was the original Macy's Day Parade Santa.  He was the technical advisor for the original Miracle on 34th Street starring Maureen O'Hara, young Natalie Wood, and John Paine.
  • The school was re-located in the 1980s to downtown Midland, Michigan, where the current school's president, Tom Valent lived when he took over.
  • He took his first class when he was 25.  His wife, Holly, is the school's registrar.  Yes, that's her real name. She made Tom's Santa suit by hand. 

Tom Valent and his wife, Holly, or Santa and Mrs. Claus
(Photo from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School)

  • Santas from all over the world come to learn the art of Santa Clausing. Students with their diverse, international backgrounds also share their Santa lore, so the knowledge of all things Santa continues to deepen and grow richer.
  • Among the things this school teaches are:
    • The history of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus
    • Proper dress and use of make-up and beards (bleach is the secret to whitening a home-grown beard)
    • Practice in ho-ho-hoing taught by a professional singer
    • How to say Santa things in sign language
    • Learning all the facts and history of Santa's reindeer and his elves so you're prepared to answer the questions children will pose
    • Flight lessons
    • Practice for radio and TV interviews, and more.
  • One Santa student said he was also required to spend some time in a woodworking shop, learning how to make toys.  The toy he made was a wooden spinning top.
  • When you arrive, you're given a pair of red suspenders with the name of the school on them, and then it's time to board the sleigh and learn all things Santa.

Tom Valent teaching the finer points during an international session in London.
(Photo from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School)

  • The 3-day session costs $415 for new students and $365 for returning students.  Hey, good Santa Clausing is worth its weight in gold.
  • In fact, this school has been called "The Harvard of Santa Schools." 
  • Mrs. Clauses are welcome at the school too, but since kids can always tell if it's a woman under that Santa suit, female students are encouraged to learn the part of Mrs. Claus.
  • Training was held this year on October 18-20.  So the 2012 session is closed.  But I imagine they will hold classes again next year.
  • Student-Santas are encouraged to stay at the local Fairview Inn.  It looks like the classes are held in conference rooms at this hotel.  I bet that's a fun weekend with all those Santa Clauses in the same hotel.
  • Above all, Tom Valent says, remember that being Santa is "a privilege, not a job."

Santas-in-training taking a break in front of Santa's House in Midland, Michigan.
(Photo from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School)

Santa School -- Canada

A Santa School class in Calgary, Alberta
(Photo from the Santa School)

  • The Santa School was founded by Victor Nevada, who has been portraying Santa Claus since 1985 when he visited the children of his real estate clients.
  • After a year or two, he started researching the part, and he really got into it.  He discovered there's much more to it than just a couple of ho-ho-hos.  As a result of his research and acting classes and talking with other Santas, he's now regarded as Canada's Top Santa.
  • When he retired from his day job, he founded his Santa School in Alberta, Canada.
  • Instructors are experts in show business who teach the art of Santa-ing, as well as passing on their knowledge of Santa facts.

Instruction at the Santa School in Calgary.
(Photo from the Santa School)

  • This Santa School will also make a customized Santa suit for you.  All you have to do is send them your measurements that include padding, and some unknown amount of money.
  • This school's 2012 session was held on this same 3 days as the Charles W. Howard School: October 18-20.
  • The 3-day session here costs $500.  They also have a manual called "All About Being Santa" which you can purchase for $169.

Santa School -- UK

The 2010 Santa School in the UK
(Photo from

  • This Santa School was founded by Stuart J. Thomson in 2008.
  • This school's website doesn't give much more information than that.  They don't even say how much tuition costs.
  • But the website does make it very clear that their Santas are available for "shopping malls, Grottos and Parties leading up to Xmas Day."  Hmm.  If this Santa can't even bother to spell out "Christmas," I don't think I'll be attending this Santa School.

International University of Santa Claus -- several locations
  • This School4Santas travels -- literally.  They offer sessions in several locations around the country, including Chicago, Atlanta, Denver, Dallas/Ft. Worth, LA, New York, Williamsburg, VA, and Columbus, OH.  Kind of an odd assortment of locations there.

The 2009 School4Santas cruise on the Diamond Princess to Alaska.
(Photo from the International University of Santa Claus)

  • In addition, they offer the School4Santas Caribbean Cruise.  In 2013, the Santa cruise is booked for April 25-May 9 on board the Ruby Princess.
  • Th cruise offers all the typical amenties of any cruise -- gourmet dining, casinos, nightclubs, etc. -- plus Santa instruction.  
  • This year's cruise is also in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the school, so I imagine that alumni may also be attending.  There will be a cocktail reception in honor of the anniversary.
  • Cruise packages start at $699.  Balcony rooms start at $1099.
  • I'm feeling less and less Santa Claus-y.
This video gives an idea of what School4Santas on board a cruise ship is like.  Actually, this looks kind of nice.

  • Whether you take the School4Santa class on a cruise ship or on land, you learn the same things: the history of Santa Claus, how to make your visit memorable, how to answer childrens' questions, Santa hygiene and grooming, plus how to turn being Santa into a year-round job.
  • Single registration is $289.  Couples can sign up for $399.

Santa Claus Academy -- Tokyo 

Training at the Santa Claus Academy in Tokyo.
(Photo from
  • There's even a Santa school in Japan.
  • Masaki Azuma, 70, started the school because he saw how few children believe in Santa Claus anymore.  He wanted to "bring Santa Claus back."
  • This school teaches Santas not to reply anything unless addressed as "Santa-san." 
  • They also taught magic tricks as ice breakers to help win over shy children. 
  • As with most Santa schools, most of the instruction focuses on learning all the facts you'll need to know in order to answer the difficult questions children pose.

It sounds like, once you've got the beard and the suit down, the hard part is answering kids' questions.  Maybe children should be our reporters, and the ones who moderate political debates, and sit on juries.

But that's a serious-minded response.  Mainly, after learning about all these nice Santa things, I wish I could be a Santa Claus, too.

This baby is experiencing Santa for the first time.
(Photo from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School)

"He errs who thinks Santa enters through the chimney. Santa enters through the heart."
--Charles W. Howard

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School
Person of the Week: Santa School Spreads Christmas Cheer, ABC News, December 24, 2010
Where Santa Goes to Learn His Ho, Ho, Ho, AOL news, December 7, 2009
Santa School grad says it all comes from the heart, Beloit Daily News, October 27, 2011
Doug Harward, Is Your Santa Master Certified?,
Santa School
School for Santas: Japan conjures up a little Christmas magic, NBC News, November 27, 2012

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