This image: From IMSI's MasterClips/MasterPhotos 202,000 © 1997 Collection,
  1895 Francisco Blvd. East, San Rafael, CA 94901-5506 , USA


  (Investigator 153, 2013 November)


Santas have to know the latest toys, answer awkward questions, avoid staring at mum's cleavage, keep their hands where parents can see them, avoid promises parents can't keep, treat all kids equally, put up with being photographed all day long, and control their temper when pesky kids poke their face, salivate on them or think their leg is a toilet.

Sometimes young women or kids' mothers decide to sit on Santa's lap and get playful and, with kids watching and security cameras recording, this can get awkward.

Acting jovial all day through all provocations is hard.


Worldwide there are hundreds of training centres, training programs and organizations that train and/or hire out Santas.

A major American Santa Provider is Amuse Matte, based in California. An Internet report quotes its president, Mike Bordeleau: "All the santas are trained, background checked. Many of them belong to organizations throughout the country that are a fraternity of Santas."

America's major Santa training centres include the International University of Santa Claus (IUSC), and the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School. Canada has Santa School (in Calgary, Alberta); the UK has Thompson Santa School; Australia has Bluestone Recruitment; and from 2013 even Hong Kong has a Santa School

The IUSC is the world's largest annual Santa training school.

It travels to ten different US cities, several European cities, and also conducts courses on cruise ships. Students get advanced training in Santa Clausology and graduates receive a Bachelor or Master of Santa Claus (BSC) and become members of the University's alumni association, "The Red Suit Society." Over 2500 Santas have graduated in ten years

In charge is Tim Connaghan who first worked as a part-time Santa in California in 1970 and continued for over 30 years. After retirement in 2003 Connaghan became a full-time Santa and Santa trainer. The two-day, 16-hour, "University" course costs around $400 but graduates can earn $10,000 in a Christmas season or $200 for an hour's appearance at a weekend party.

In a 2010 interview Connaghan explained the "top requirements" to be a Santa:

"You have to be clean and neat — get a suit that is not too baggy and keep your whole appearance high quality. You can't have a beard that smells like 16,000 people have worn it. Next, you will have a lot of bosses…the children, their parents, the photographers, and the person who hired you... your number one priority is the children. Finally, you're going to get a lot of difficult questions from children. You can't promise them anything, but at the same time you never want to tell them no. Always let them know that Santa loves them and change the subject, ask what they want for Christmas." (Posted by Tory Putnam)

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan started training Santas in 1937. It is one of the world's longest running Santa schools and teaches about 100 students each year. The New York Times reported: "The Class of 2011 included an accountant, an aerospace engineer and a 28-year-old making do with odd jobs."


Bluestone Recruitment began with three employees who provided staff for the laundry industry. Continued expansion eventually included a "Santa School", opened in Sydney in 2001, making Bluestone a "specialist Santa recruiter". The School trains several dozen Santas per course and in 2012 the total available for "the world's happiest job" numbered about 600.

Bluestone Recruitment has contracts with Australia's largest department stores and shopping centre chains. Bluestone's website lists the rewards Santas get:
• Smiles from mums and dads
• Joy from many children
• Working close to home, and
• $$$
The $$$ refers to salary, not gifts from mums or dads, which Santas don't, or shouldn't, solicit or accept.

"Not-so-cuddly" trainees who lack fat bellies can nevertheless enrol since they can be fattened with artificial bellies. Trainees practice being jolly, get fruitcake for morning tea and can be almost any age — recent trainees ranged from 19 to 88. The school supplies Santa costumes, beards and wigs (if needed), and white crayons to whiten the eyebrows (if needed).


Training varies from school to school but includes how to manage frightened children, shy children and physically disabled children.

Trainees learn the reindeers' names and perhaps a little mathematics: "How many ways can eight reindeer, behind Rudolph the leading reindeer, be arranged?" Not many kids ask this question but the answer if they do is 8x7x6x5x4x3x2x1 = 40,320

Also included may be role playing, sign language, grooming, festive greetings in several languages, voice projection, Santa history, child psychology, child development, media contact, entertainment styles, wardrobe, business aspects, etiquette, and sundry facts such as:
•    The word's largest gathering of Santas occurred in Northern Ireland in 2010 where 12,965 men and women in red gathered.
•    The USA has 20,000 Santas available to work.
•    To visit 400 million children on Christmas Eve the reindeer have to fly at 4000 times the speed of sound.

In department stores and malls Santa's trips to the bathroom have to remain mysterious — Bluestone Recruitment suggests "Santa is off feeding the reindeer". Santa uses the staff facilities — not the public toilets where kids or parents might follow to continue discussing presents. Taking the costume off and putting it back on takes 20 minutes and Santa doesn't want an audience.

Department stores want to avoid litigation; therefore training includes traps to avoid. There's the cleavage trap — stores don't want mothers complaining. There's the correct positioning of the child — the knee, not the lap. Let the photographer, the kid's mother or Santa's helper position the child. If kids say stupid things — don't call them "Dickhead". And if kids are rowdy or nearby teenagers crack Santa jokes, Santa must never get irate and shout "Shut up" or "p... off!"

Trainees learn correct answers to common questions:

Child:    What drinks do you like?
Santa:    "Fruit juice" or "Milk" [Not "I get drunk every Saturday."]
Child:    How do you visit everyone in one night?
Santa:    "My reindeer go really fast."
Child:    Can I have a baby brother for Christmas?
Santa:    "I'll see what I can do" or "What toys would you like?" [Not "I'll leave one under the Christmas tree."]
Child:    Why didn't you bring what I asked for last year?
Santa:    "There was a problem; what would you like this Christmas?"

If kids who can write come with a ten-page wish-list Santa tries to restrain their hopes. He also keeps his mobile phone switched off while working and does not proposition attractive mums even if the child says: "My dad's in jail." If mum and dad are both present and are arguing Santa stays out of it. He doesn't do off-the-cuff marriage counselling except, "Ho, Ho, Ho!" and "Merry Christmas!" He also avoids innuendo — if the child asks "Do you play with Mrs Santa?" a suitable answer is "Yes we're very happy" and not "When she doesn't have a headache."

Santas have to be up to date with toys. Few kids nowadays want marbles or yoyos. They're after Mutant Ninja Turtle Costumes, Spider Man Mega Blasters, life-like Barbies, mobile phones, Batmobiles, play stations and remote control airplanes.

Santas need to monitor their personal habits since nobody wants a smelly Santa. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, onions, garlic, prunes, broccoli, etc, before work. Regular health checks too are important — parents and kids want good cheer, not tuberculosis or flu.

With studies completed and diplomas received, the new Santas may get to celebrate with mince pies, turkey sandwiches and sherry. After that it's look for work or wait for it.


Besides schools and training centres there are cheaper and shorter options. Common are half-day workshops which teach all the essentials. The cheapest and least committal option is probably tutoring by telephone costing perhaps $25 for a half hour's tuition. Realize, however, that at an interview "I studied Santaclausology at University" sounds more qualified than "I made a phone call."

It's wise to investigate various schools, speak to graduates, and find out about continuing support, placement after graduation, the School's success rate, and marketing assistance.

Programs for self-training or additional training are also available. The Richardson Company (Lakeland, Washington) offers "Santa's Leadership Secrets — Santa's Training Tool Kit". This is: "An exciting leadership development training program based on the best selling book, The Leadership Secrets of Santa Claus." The tool kit includes 11 books, 150 PowerPoint Training Visuals, DVD, VHS, and useable items such as a Santa Coffee Mug, Santa Mouse, Santa Hat, etc.

You get what you pay for. Stores, malls and companies that hire Santas turn to professional schools, and it is former students who get hired. If you're going freelance you'll need a Police Clearance Certificate or other security check. If your past is best kept concealed you should train for a different job.

New Santas usually purchase their own costume and accessories. An authentic-looking red costume can cost $2000 and double this for a backup. Santa boots may cost $800; a belt $300; white leather gloves $300; and combined beard & wig sets of yak hair over $1000. You can save on the beard by growing your own. Kids who feel unstable on knee-tops could hang on to it without pulling it off.

To remain a top, sought-after Santa requires regular refresher training and involvement with a Santa Claus community or fraternity.

Doug Harward, CEO and founder of Training Industry Inc. writes: "…the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas…is an international, fraternal organization dedicated to training Santas and enhancing their portrayal of Santa Claus for the benefit of family and community." (December 1, 2009)

Other associations in America recognized by the Santa schools include:
•    Fraternity of International Real Bearded Santas;
•    Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas;
•    International Order of Santas;
•    Mystic Order of Traditional Santas.

There are also organizations that provide volunteer Santas for hospitals, hospices, military establishments, and "special" children. Prominent in the USA is Santa America about which Bob Elkins of its Santa Relations Program writes on the Internet: "We continue to seek the top 10% of American Santas to become part of our unique and compassionate team. As America's largest non-profit Santa service charity, Santa America continues to expand our…international network of dedicated volunteers…"

As a qualified Santa you could even attend the annual, 3-day, World Congress of Santa Claus near Copenhagen (Denmark) and compete for the Santa World Championship.


Are you intelligent enough to be a Santa? Try the Santa intelligence test at

And to see a Santa who breaks every rule watch the movie Bad Santa (2003)!

If you're willing and able to be a good Santa, perhaps Santa School is for you!