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4:11 pm
Sat December 22, 2012

It's Not Jolly, It's A Job: Pro Santas Say It's More Than Just The Beard

Originally published on Sat December 22, 2012 5:37 pm

WARNING: The following story contains Santa information that may not be suitable for youngsters.

So, you're considering becoming a Santa — getting a suit, throwing on a beard — after all, how hard could it be?

"Being a good Santa Claus, it's a calling," says Santa Jim Manning, aka Boston Santa.

Manning has been playing Santa for about a decade, doing mostly home visits. He says the first thing you're going to need to do is figure out is what kind of Santa you're going to be.

"There's real-bearded and there's designer-bearded," he says. "Mine is a designer beard. A lot of people refer to them as fake beards, but we don't like to call them that, just because it really is a designer beard or a fashion beard."

Manning says it's more than just the beard that makes the Santa. In his case, it's also about $1,500 worth of gear wigs, beards, mustaches and a fat suit that takes hours to put on.

Manning says you've got to be part actor and part child whisperer. Even if you manage to master the shy kids, the terrified kids, the drunken adults — he says an improv class really helps there — the Santa is in the details. Even something as simple as singing "Jingle Bells" could trip you up.

"The kids don't know the second verse," he says. "The adults know the second verse, but once the kids stop singing, the adults all realize all of a sudden it's just them and me and singing. So I end up doing a solo version of this song — which makes it look like Santa is all about the attention."

The Santa Elite

In the stratified Santa community, however, even if you're a hit with the crowd, you may not be completely accepted within the Santa society elite.

"It seems to me like some of the other real-bearded guys ... really feel like by having a real beard that that puts them a step above the designer-bearded Santas, which I don't agree with," Manning says.

Of course, not all real-bearded Santas feel so superior.

"Just like every human being is unique, each Santa is unique," says Santa Scott Calkin, aka Cape Cod Santa. He is one of the illustrious real-bearded Santas.

"My beard is registered with a national beard registry," Calkin says.

Calkin also belongs to the International Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, the Society of Santas and the New England Society of Santas.

Calkin says if you want to be a Santa, and you're serious, he doesn't care if you have a real beard or a designer beard. He says you should be fully educated and be able to recite the historic Santa lore, as well as know all the names of the reindeer. At the end of the day, however, he says there are parts you can't learn.

"I think you have to have that special place in your heart that distinguishes you from being a person with a beard and being Santa with a beard," he says.

The Burden Of Being Santa

And if you don't think carefully before you suit up, you could find yourself not so jolly.

"I'm a radio Santa, and I hate it," says Santa Bob Parkis.

For one night a year, Parkis takes calls from children on the air. He remembers one call from a little girl that made him particularly uncomfortable.

"In ending, she said to me, 'I love you, Santa.' I really hate being a kind of a god," Parkis says. "It's an artificial construct, and yet here's the real emotion coming from the kids.

The responsibility of being a Santa is too great, says Parkis. A lesson to all who would be Santa: Think carefully before you grow (or buy) that beard and don that red cap.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

A warning now: the following story contains Santa information that may not be suitable for younger listeners - we're going to spill the beans. Now, if you've ever entertained the idea of putting on a Santa suit this time of year to make a few extra bucks, professional Santas are here to tell you - or rather to warn you - it is not easy. Here's reporter Katherine Perry.

KATHERINE PERRY, BYLINE: So you're considering becoming a Santa: getting a suit, throwing on a beard. After all, how hard could it be?

JIM MANNING: Being a good Santa Claus, it's a calling.

PERRY: That is Santa Jim Manning, aka Boston Santa. He's been playing Santa for about a decade, doing mostly home visits. He says the first thing you're going to need to do is figure out what kind of Santa you're going to be.

MANNING: There's real bearded and there's designer bearded. Mine is a designer beard. A lot of people refer to them as fake beards, but we don't like to call them that, just because it's - it really is a designer beard or a fashion beard.

PERRY: But Santa Jim says it's more than just the beard that makes the Santa. In his case, it's about fifteen hundred dollars' worth of gear.

MANNING: I have a number of wigs, beard and mustaches.

PERRY: It takes him hours to put on fat suits.

MANNING: Back, butt and belly.

PERRY: Santa Jim says you've got to be part actor, part child whisperer. And even if you manage to master the shy kids, the terrified kids, the drunk adults - he says an improv class really helps there - the Santa is in the details. But in the stratified Santa community, you may not be completely accepted within the Santa society elite.

MANNING: It's seems to me like some of the other real-bearded guys, you know, really feel like by having a real beard that that puts them a step above the designer-bearded Santas, which I don't agree with.

PERRY: But, of course, not all real-bearded Santas feel so superior.

SCOTT CALKIN: Just like every human being is unique, each Santa is unique.

PERRY: Santa Scott Calkin, aka Cape Cod Santa, is one of the illustrious real bearded Santas.

CALKIN: My beard is registered with The National Beard Registry. I belong to the International Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, to the Society of Santas.

PERRY: Santa Scott says if you want to be a Santa and you're serious, he doesn't care if you have a real beard or a designer beard, but you should be fully educated: be able to recite the historic Santa lore, know all the names of the reindeer. But at the end of the day, he says there are parts you can't learn.

CALKIN: I think you have to have that special place in your heart that distinguishes you from being a person with a beard and being Santa with a beard.

PERRY: And if you don't think carefully before you suit up, you could find yourself not so jolly.

BOB PARKIS: I'm a radio Santa, and I hate it.

PERRY: For one night a year, Santa Bob Parkis takes calls from children on the air. He remembers one call from a little girl that made him particularly uncomfortable.

PARKIS: In ending, she said to me: I love you, Santa. I really hate being a kind of a god. It's an artificial construct, and yet here's the real emotion coming from the kid.

PERRY: The responsibility of being a Santa is too great, says Santa Bob. A lesson to all those who would be Santa: think carefully before you don that cap. For NPR News, I'm Katherine Perry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "HERE COMES SANTA CLAUSE")

RAZ: And this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.