Believe it or not, being a professional Santa is hard work. It’s not just about putting on a red suit and a fake beard and doing the best ‘ho-ho-ho’ you can muster. Some Santas actually take their job very seriously, so much so that they go to a university to sharpen their skills.
Yes, Santa University is a real thing. It’s a four-day training program that takes place every summer at ‘Noerr Pole’, the corporate office of Noerr Programs in Colorado. The company is a digital event imaging provider that recruits and trains its own 70-member Santa Claus team. “We cover every single aspect you can think of when it comes to being the consummate Santa,” said Ruth Rosenquist, public relations director at Noerr.
So prospective Santas are taught how to pose for pictures, how to deal with social and mainstream media, how to sit with a child on their lap, what to do if a child asks for something intangible for Christmas, and how to stay healthy and hydrated during the holidays. The Santas interact with each other over two BBQ sessions that promote goodwill and an atmosphere of support.
Photo: Noerr Programs
“Santa University is about inspiring that heart of Santa,” said company president Judy Noerr. That’s why participants are coached on Santa ethics, and take part in ‘Operation Santa’s Stocking’ – an initiative that gives back to the community by packing goody boxes for American troops around the world.
Getting recruited to Santa University is no easy task. “These men are working with children, and they represent us, our clients, and most of all Santa,” Rosenquist said. “So it’s important that they have the right nuance.” Each candidate is put through an intense background check and several rounds of interviews.
Photo: Noerr Programs
Most people who make the cut in the initial resume round are actors, schoolteachers, toy makers, children’s counselors, and those with special-needs experience. The ability to speak multiple languages is definitely a plus, as is an abundance of naturally white facial hair. In fact, Noerr boasts that over 96% of their “most beautiful, professional Santas” are naturally bearded.
So how much money do these magical, near-perfect Santa actors actually make? Well, the exact figure isn’t clear, but they certainly aren’t allowed to work for free. “It varies widely,” Rosenquist said. “It’s all predicated on how much experience they have, the market they’re going into, how long they’ve been with us, things like that.” But, at the end of the day, it’s more about the experience than the money.
“The goal is to bring a magical experience to kids,” said Wade Burleigh, who’s been working as a professional Santa for nine years. “It takes someone who can be themselves and still have the heart of Santa Claus. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day.”