Legendary Santa University is Serious Business
The time between Black Friday and Christmas is shorter this year, so everyone is getting an early jump on the festivities, including professional Santas in the area.
The St. Nicks enrolled at Legendary Santa University gathered for classes at the Acworth Beach House in September. The professional Santa school — yes, that’s a real thing — is one of five such schools in Georgia, as the state boasts the largest number of full-bearded Santas in the country, according to Santa Thomas, co-founder of Legendary Santa University.
To become a professional Santa, you must attend a Santa school and look the part, which means having a real beard. There are numerous schools in the U.S. that prepare Santas. The largest is the C.W. Howard School of Santas in Michigan, where more than 300 Santas parked their sleighs for a three-day class this year.
While Legendary Santa University didn’t draw 300 attendees, it did see about 60 Santas invade the Acworth Beach House. The school’s location rotates throughout North Georgia and, this year, thanks to Santa Jay, a local professional Santa, the school landed in Acworth. Classes attracted professional Santas, Mrs. Clauses and elves from South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, as well as North Georgia.
“You don’t choose to be a Santa Claus, it chooses you,” Santa Jay said. “It’s a calling.”
Sessions included clothing and wardrobe, beard and hair maintenance, storytelling, marketing yourself, being photogenic, booking film and stage jobs, entertainment insurance, and classes for Mrs. Clauses and elves on how to support Santa. Santas also learned how to deal with children with disabilities, children in grief, and those speaking other languages, including signing. All Legendary Santas know how to sign “Merry Christmas, have you been a good boy/girl?”
“Every child has the right to have a visit with Santa Claus, but not every child is the same,” Santa Jay said. “We talk about how to work with the parents to know if physical touch — hugs, high fives, sitting on his lap or next to him — is OK or not.”
“I had a child last year tell me he wanted his mom back, who had a stroke that year,” Santa Jay said. “In school, we learn how to deal with children in grief. We’re basically improv actors. We don’t have a script, and have to learn how to respond when they say something about a family member.”
As with other professional conferences, vendors attend Legendary Santa University, offering Santas the opportunity to purchase clothing and accessories, like belts, bells and other important gadgets.
Hairdressers also lead sessions on caring for Santa’s hair and beard. Santa Jay visits his specialized hairdresser every six weeks to keep his beard white. Legendary Santas don’t just play Santa seasonally, they’re Santa year-round, so keeping their white beards pristine takes effort.
“Our school specializes in becoming a Legendary Santa,” Santa Thomas said. “When you book one of these Santas, you’re getting the best. Santa Lou, who co-founded the school with me, is the house Santa for one of the top hotels [St. Regis] in Atlanta.”
Other Legendary Santas can be seen this season at the Mall of Georgia, malls in California and Florida, sporting events, and even Disney World’s Epcot. Santa Jay is an event Santa and mostly books special appearances, but he can be seen at The Battery Atlanta for four days this year, in addition to about 150 billboards around town. Santa Thomas can be seen in “Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses,” a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie that premiered Oct. 26.
School also convenes in the spring. While fall sessions are spent preparing for the upcoming season, spring classes focus on acting, and booking jobs throughout the year. One of the group’s Mrs. Clauses works at Give Kids the World in Orlando, where she visits with Make a Wish Foundation families.
“Our job is to teach the Santas how to stand out,” Santa Thomas said. “We want everyone who sees them to think they are the real Santa. No one wants the understudy.”
Professional Santas start booking jobs in September. Santa Jay said that, by the first week of October, he already was booked for the season.
“The Santa Claus community is like a brotherhood,” Santa Jay said. “We want all of the Santa Clauses to be successful. There’s plenty of business to go around. We’re all about helping each other.”
The university was founded three years ago by Santa Thomas and Santa Lou. The pair were members of another school, but decided to branch off, because the other school started teaching things Santa Thomas and Santa Lou felt were not keeping with the tradition of Santa Claus.
“They were wanting Santas to stay away from Christianity,” said Santa Thomas, who points out that religion is only mentioned if a child asks. “Santa derived from Saint Nicholas. That’s part of the character we portray. If it wasn’t for Jesus, we wouldn’t have Christmas, and there would be a lot of fat bearded men without a job.”
Santa Says …
When parents fear introducing Santa will take away from the religious aspect of Christmas …
“If children realize that there is a man that will give them toys, and all they have to do is try to be good, then it helps them understand the concept of someone loving them unconditionally.”
— Santa Thomas
When a grieving child asks for something Santa can’t deliver …
“We tell them we can’t bring your parents back or cure them, but we’ll say a prayer and ask Jesus to help. We don’t lie to them.”
— Santa Jay
To parents who are on the fence about the Santa thing …
“I think Santa is very important, and not because of the gifts. It’s not what’s under the tree that is important, it’s who’s around it. It teaches children to give and to dream.”
— Santa Thomas
When kids ask about the North Pole and the elves…
“All Santa Clauses have their own back stories. We all create what we call our own North Pole, for when we’re asked about how many elves we have or what we do before we get in the sleigh on Christmas Eve. The children love the background stories, and we work on those together at the schools, and bounce ideas off each other.”
— Santa Jay
When a young child asks for gifts parents can’t afford…
“I tell them there’s lots of children in the world, and I have to have room for other gifts, too. I tell parents to get a box and crayons and let them play with those. That box can be anything they want it to be and they’ll love it.”
— Santa Thomas