“What do I love most about being Santa Claus?” said Santa Jim. “That’s simple. It’s keeping the magic of Christmas alive for the next generation.
“If you can believe it, I’m also an extreme Christmas lights enthusiast. Back in 1990 I decided to complement my decorations by dressing up as Santa and waving at people passing by. The neighborhood must have taken note, because the following year I got requests from all my friends to go visit their children as Santa. Everything just kind of happened from there.
“A lot of boomers think it’s easy to put on a suit and become Santa. Obviously Santa school is optional, but it is a great place to sharpen your skills and meet other Santas. They’ll teach you things like the history of Saint Nicholas, how to deal with some of those more difficult questions kids can ask, and how to smile correctly for photographs. A big part of being Santa is being a photo prop, after all.
“Your education can’t end with Santa school. I watch Christmas movies all year round, always looking for little moves I can incorporate into my persona. I would say my biggest influence has been Mickey Rooney, who provided the voice of Santa in movies like The Year Without a Santa Claus – you remember, the one with the Heat Miser. When children ask me questions, I always try to think of what Mickey would say. Some kids will ask me to say hi to Jack Skellington if they like The Nightmare Before Christmas. And fortunately, to this day, no child has ever asked me about Bad Santa. Adults might bring up something naughty like that, which is when I gently remind them to please keep things G-rated around Santa!
“Many of the older Santas get away without hair dye. Nature took care of that for them. But I’m not quite there yet, so as a year-round Santa I bleach my hair and beard every three weeks. It’s worth every second, because my beard always looks authentic and also stays on my face when a kid decides to test whether it’s real. (That usually only happens when their parents egg them on.) I also get senior discounts at 48 years old without asking for them!
“More than anything, to be Santa, you’ve got to have what I call the ‘Santa Heart.’ It’s the devotion to giving kids the spirit of Christmas, simple and pure, and it’s the look on a child’s face when they know they’re really meeting Santa. Now, I never actually say I’m the real Santa. If a child asks me whether I’m real, I tell them ‘I sure do feel real! Feel my beard – doesn’t it feel real?’ For me, taking a child back from the edge of not believing is one of the most rewarding feelings in the world.
“And children really do want to believe. For instance, a couple of years ago I went to my sister’s house for Christmas, where all the kids know me as Uncle Jim. At one point I left the room to put on my Santa outfit, changing my mustache only so it ended in circles instead of pointing down like a biker’s. To my amazement not one kid recognized me, even though their Uncle Jim was with them not ten minutes earlier. Santa’s mustache must work just like Superman’s glasses.
“I’m naturally a bit of an introvert, which fits well into my day job working with computers. But when you put on the suit, you’re the star of the show. You’re Santa, big and bold, the commanding presence in the room the moment the parents open the door, all ho ho hos and sweeping arm movements. Or, when there’s an especially shy child, or one with special needs, I’ll stay a little quieter until they’ve had time to warm up to me. It’s all about giving a child the experience they need to fully feel that wonder.
“I always get as much back from the children as they give to me. I shared one of my life’s most heartwarming moments with a three-year-old. She handed me her pacifier because she was ‘a big girl now,’ and asked me to give it to another kid who needed it more. She had such a charitable heart. I didn’t think another parent would appreciate me giving their baby that used pacifier, so I hang it on my Christmas tree to this day.”
Santa Jim is available for promotional events this holiday season throughout the Bismarck-Mandan area. If you would like his expert assistance at creating Christmas cheer this year, then you may book Santa Jim at gigsalad.com/master_santa_fergus_falls.
By David Scheller