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What I wish I knew before I became Santa...

Jeff Hillyard

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This blog post is inspired by a post I made in late 2021 as I reflected on my first year portraying Santa Claus. I've trimmed down the original content to make it easier to read, and added some new thoughts that have come to me in the months since. I hope this is a good read for both seasoned and new Santa Claus' alike.

Below (in no particular order) is a list of things I wish I had known before I began my journey into assisting Santa Claus.

Don't spend too much money
There are so many nice things that are available for us in our portrayal of Santa Claus that it is very easy to get caught up in wanting all of them. I strongly recommend creating a simple budget to ensure you only spend what you can afford. In my first year I purchased many pieces that I wish I had waited on. At the end of the day I think most of us starting out would be best served with a quality suit (Halco makes a great first suit), real leather boots and belt, fur boot cuffs, and wrist bells. Take some time your first season to take note of the other items you wish you had and add to them year over year.

Listen when someone who knows more than you gives advice ;)
When I was purchasing my suit and most of my accessories the retailer recommended that I not buy the cheap Halco fur cuffs (connect with Velcro) and instead purchase some he had a local wedding dress store make (nicer fur, little bit taller, elastic instead of Velcro) for $40 more. I declined because I didn't think it was worth the $40 and I've been regretting it ever since. The Halco cuffs are awkward to put on, rise up my leg, and came close to falling off once or twice.

In the same conversation with the retailer he recommended buying a second Santa hat that matches the suit for (I think) ~$29. I politely declined because I didn't think I needed another hat. It only took having to put the sweat soaked and cold hat on once before getting out of my car after traveling from one gig to another to realize there was a reason he suggested I buy the extra hat.

Try on your suit before you purchase - if possible
Like I said, this may not be possible, but if you can, definitely try on your suit before you spend big money. My suit is a Halco Burgundy Velvet that the retailer added what he called a "Peter Pan Collar". It is absolutely beautiful and a great first suit. My biggest mistake is that I purchased a suit that is about 2 sizes too big. I'm short and fat, so sizing was always going to be a bit of trouble. I went with the bigger size because the smaller sizes have a neck size that would be too small for my neck and I didn't want to look like a stuffed sausage or be choked by the suit.

I didn't have the option to try the suit on in person as there are no costume rental businesses or local shops that would sell a Halco Santa Suit. The only thing I could find locally was the $99 suit you find at Party City and despite my best efforts, I could not find a local seamstress or tailor that had made a Santa Suit previously AND was willing to make me one this year. One thing I should have done when I decided to have the collar added to the suit is ask if the neck could have been made larger when the collar was added. I'll be asking that next time.

Practice your Santa pose and smile!
I was shocked when I looked at photos from my very first appearance! I was sitting with a slouch, and my smile was way too big. The slouch was a result of me being caught in the moment and not being very comfortable on the bench that had been provided for me to sit on, and the smile was a result of reading that your smile may not be as apparent as you think it is. The slouch was an easy fix - from then on I just made sure that after I sat down I sat up straight and that my coat or shirt and vest didn't have any lumps in it before the photo's were taken. The smile took some work. Initially my smile was so big that my mouth was wide open - it looked like Santa was shocked to be sitting next to everyone. With a bit of practice the smile became more natural.

My big takeaway is that it's probably a good idea to practice posing for photos and smiling. Like, put everything on grab a chair, put a camera on a tripod, and snap some pictures to critique yourself. This will definitely be something I do next year.

Learn some ASL - and make sure you memorize them
This is something I've seen many of us do and I think it is great. I've been saying for the last year that I actually want to take some ASL classes and get practice using ASL and signing with a deaf person. I've been putting it off for a long time, but I did take the time to watch a video on basic Christmas/Santa ASL signs. But I guess in the back of my head I knew I didn't have a very busy season planned and didn't take it as serious as I should have. Well, what would you know - on my very first appearance of my very first season, I had a mother who was signing with her son. I desperately wanted to at the very least sign "Merry Christmas", but I wasn't confident in my own mind that I had remembered it correctly. Needless to say I made sure as soon as I got home to re-watch the video and I'll never forget that sign for the rest of my days.

Velcro is your enemy
This might just be me, but I would strongly recommend avoiding Velcro anything. In my case my fur boot cuffs and my wrist bells both attach using Velcro. I found that the Velcro quickly ruined all of my white gloves and would easily get caught in my suit fur. This year I've upgraded my fur boot cuffs to the better pair I was recommended last year, and I'm going to have my local cobbler remove the Velcro from my wrist bells and put a button snap on them.

Use gender neutral language
This was a great topic that came up on Episode 12 of the ClausNet Podcast. I was so impressed when @RadioSanta made this episode and how everyone responded to it. I'm a little more "left leaning" than most folks on ClausNet and try to use gender neutral language most of the time in my everyday life. Still, saying something like "boys and girls" rolls of the tongue and was something I said over and over as Santa Claus. When addressing crowds, this isn't that big of a deal (and I wouldn't hesitate to say it to crowds in the future), but I found myself saying it when I would sometimes interact with small groups of 2 or 3 children. Whenever I did that I would always think to myself "Next time say children, ya cotton headed ninny muggins!"

Eventually when I was at a "Painting with Santa" event that involved mostly families sitting at tables of 4 or 5 people, I walked up to a table with 2 parents and 2 children and said something along the lines of "Ho Ho Ho, have we been good boys and girls this year?" and one of the parents gave me an odd look and said "Uh... they've both been good girls, Santa..." I quickly recovered and said "Sorry, force of habit, Ho Ho Ho" and we had a great visit. This was just me being careless, as both their daughters definitely presented as daughters. Lesson learned for me and I stayed pretty strict calling children just that - children.

Don't bleach until November
As a first time real bearded Santa, I was worried if I waited until November to try my hand at bleach that I'd mess it up and make my beard fall out, so I started the process in June. I bleached just once a month until November then did it every other week during the season. I received many complements on my beard throughout the season (and admittedly it was a little fun being called Santa everywhere I went, even when not in my suit), but the bleach really did a number on my beard over those 6 months. My beard looked it's absolute best after my third bleaching.

So this year I won't begin bleaching until the first week of November, and I'll be using a white beard makeup for root touch ups to avoid over bleaching during the season.

Edited by Jeff Hillyard

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