Has Your Santa Been to School?

It’s that time of the year. Time for sugar cookies, Christmas carols, and of course, a visit to see Santa. Some folks are determined to get a good picture of the red cloaked man with their children every year. Others (raising my hand) prefer to catch him only in low-stress situations, like at a friend’s party. It’s not uncommon for Santa visits to go terribly wrong. I dare you to Google “Santa fails”.

For every perfectly caught moment, there are dozens of snapshots that were declared “good enough” so everyone could move along. Sometimes it’s the child’s personality. I had a toddler who was terrified of Chuck E. Cheese. There was no way he’d even consider sitting on a bearded man’s lap. But sometimes it might be that Santa lacks the necessary people skills. Maybe it sounded like good money for a temporary gig, but it turned out to be much more complicated.

Photo: Julia DuBois
Photo: Julia DuBois

On the other hand, a well-trained jolly man has probably been to Santa school.

“Santa school?” you say. Who knew there was such a thing? Not only are there several training centers for Santas across the country, one of the biggest and most respected is down the mountain from me, in Denver.

Photo: Susen Mesco's Professional Santa Claus School
Another Santa has graduated! Photo: Susen Mesco.

In a way, Susan Mesco accidentally fell into being a Santa instructor. In the early 1980s, her company provided talent for photo opportunities, including many of the red suited man. She was surprised to see so many unprofessional variations of what should have been a jolly man. Not keeping in character, drinking alcohol in costume, and a lack of general hospitality skills led to some pretty apathetic and sad experiences for many children.

Susen knew she could create a better Santa Claus. Susen Mesco’s Professional Santa Claus School enrolls 500 Santa wannabes every year. She’s also trained over 4300 Santas exclusively for Wal-Mart.

The skills are basic, but critical when it comes to creating a magical moment for little folks. Her students spend a long weekend (with follow-up sessions through the year) learning what traits the true Santa might have. What is the appropriate response when you discover your lap is wet? How long should you wait out a timid child? How should you respond when a child asks for something that is obviously unattainable? Through the years, she’s adapted her program to include changes in our culture, like appropriate responses when a child wants a parent to come home from deployment for Christmas.

Photo: Julia DuBois
Photo: Julia DuBois

Once you pass the training, the school offers a placement service and insurance policies. Yes, insurance. More than one kid has taken a tumble off Santa’s lap and we live in a lawsuit-happy culture. A thorough background check assures mall managers that not only will their Santa be kind and loving, he will be safe.

A reluctant fan. Photo: Julia DuBois
A reluctant fan. Photo: Julia DuBois

The next time you’re standing in that long line of overdressed toddlers and their stressed out parents, take a look at your Santa. If you’re lucky, he will be professionally trained. It takes more than having a perfect white beard to be a good Santa. Thank goodness there are schools like the one I found in Denver, working hard to make the experience worthwhile, for many children, and their weary parents.

(Feel free to share your best (or worst!) Santa pictures in our comments section!)