The Magic of Santa

Learn the interesting history and fun facts of Christmas and the big man himself

By Sue Baldani

Being a professional Santa is a lot more than just putting on a red suit and happily chortling “Ho, Ho, Ho.” After all, sitting on Santa’s lap and telling him about their Christmas wishes is something most kids look forward to all year long. Since the real Santa can’t be everywhere at once, he needs caring and enthusiastic helpers who can fill in for him at times.

“I’ve been a professional Christmas performer since 2013, and one of my goals over the last couple of years, especially with COVID, was to become a better performer for my clients,” says James Brown of Warrenton. He believed that the more he learned about the holiday, the better he could emulate the persona of Santa.

“There are an estimated 10,000 professional Santa Clauses nationwide,” he says. “A professional Santa is someone who has a license, has undergone a background check, and carries insurance.”

In order to educate himself and other professional Santa Clauses, he started researching the history of Christmas and Santa Claus. Eventually, he put all of his findings into his book, Beyond the Beard, which was just released in October.

“It took about three years to write,” he says. “My editor, Katherine Eppley, helped me go through all the information that I collected. This book is basically the who, what, how, and why of Santa Claus and Christmas. Amy Zwirko of Creative Crafts produced the charming hand-drawn illustrations throughout the book.”

Brown says he didn’t start out to write a book. “It was just a personal journey for me. About two years ago, I got in touch with Phil Wenz who wrote the Santa Claus Oath, a code of ethics, that’s currently used in the Santa Claus community.” Wenz provided him with a lot of information, including the basic background of Charles W. Howard, who, explains Brown, pioneered one of the first Santa Claus Schools.

There are many interesting and obscure facts throughout the book that even the most devoted fans of Christmas and Santa might not know. Here are just a few:

  • Mrs. Claus actually came about as part of the women’s suffrage movement in the late 1800s. During World War II, due to the shortage of men, women played Santa Claus and were paid $25 a week.
  • Lewis Prang, the father of the American Christmas card, started using Santa depicted in a red suit. A lot of people believe Coca-Cola was responsible for that.
  • Jolly Old St. Nicholas, created in 1865, was one of the first non-religious Christmas songs.
  • The oldest church in the United States is St. Nicholas Church in New York City and it still stands today.

The book also includes a tasty recipe for Reindeer Snacks! It’s fun to treat Rudolph and his antlered friends.

Beyond the Beard can be found at Open Book in Warrenton, Barnes & Noble, on Amazon, and at Tinsel Thyme Press, which the Browns founded a couple of years ago.When not playing Santa Claus or running his agricultural business with his wife, Nichole, he works as a government employee. “Nichole is a school teacher who is considering writing about agriculture for children, and the reindeer photos in the book were actually created by my son, Zechariah. We sell his reindeer cards to Santa Clauses worldwide.”

Additionally, Brown uses these reindeer cards as part of his Santa routine. “I also have reindeer shoes and talk with the children about the shoes. I tell stories how Dancer likes to dance the salsa with Mrs. Claus and how Cupid likes to take care of the animals at the veterinarian’s office. It’s important to be a good storyteller.”

Brown’s other book, The Making of Santa, which he wrote alongside Beyond The Beard, was released in July of this year, and combines the basics of a Santa school with a business manual for the professional Santa. “We’ve sold approximately 1,000 copies already, mostly to the Santa Claus community,” he says.

His passion for Christmas started when he was on active duty in the Navy (he was enlisted for 20 years.) “I spent many years away from my family at Christmastime, and somebody was always there to be Santa for my kids,” says Brown. In addition to Zechariah, he has three daughters, Ashley, Amber, and Alesha. He was also able to watch Santa giving kids gifts during deployment parties.

Keep an eye out for more Christmas and Santa Claus related books coming in the near future. “We’ve already come up with the titles for the next couple of books, and we’re going to start working on book number three around February,” he says. “It won’t take long to turn it around because we already have all the material we need.”

To find out more, go to

What makes a good Santa?

Along with the red suit and white gloves, pay extra attention to the beard, belt and boots. Kids care more about those than the suit. Wear a high quality beard, a real leather belt, and sturdy black boots.

Make sure you know the reindeers’ names and when Rudolph was born (1939) and have a story about when you and Mrs. Claus met (they married in 1849).

Always focus on the child. Be a good storyteller. The children are there to be with Santa and it’s a bonding moment for that child.

Santa should never be a disciplinary figure. Everyone has opportunities to be on the “Nice List.”

Written for Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine in Virginia.

A Festive Home for the Holidays

Unique and inspiring decorating tips

By Sue Baldani

When Jessica Merryweather Pollard opened her home, gift and design store in the summer of 2021 in the Box Factory in Bend, Oregon, she focused on making it a place where people could find something that expressed their unique tastes. She also likes to encourage customers to think outside the box. With the holidays coming, she especially wants to promote decorating in a style that incorporates the traditional with the unexpected.

In order to keep a sense of continuity in the décor, Jessica advises choosing a color palette and carrying that theme throughout the house. This way, from the time you and your guests walk up to the front door, then walk into the living room, the dining room and possibly the powder room, everything feels connected.

Here, she gives us some ideas on how to make your home as festive and fun as can be this holiday season.

Front of home/porch

If you have a pot that you keep flowers in during the summer, transition that into a holiday theme using white or natural colored sticks with a mix of evergreens and even feathers. I usually do evergreen and juniper, and then I’ve used these red sticks that come off my crab apple tree.

One the front door, you could do a swag or a wreath, but I like to do greens around the border of my door and then add some fun color using ornaments and lightweight outdoor bulbs.

Living room

Most Christmas trees go in the living room, so the tree is going to be the focal point. The tree is also going to set the tone for how you’re going to decorate the rest of the room. You can go the traditional route of reds, greens, creams, golds and silvers, or follow the trend of super neutral. People have been doing white trees with lots of cream, taupe and gray ornaments. If you’re going to really kick it up and go kind of modern, it’s really fun to do navy blues, hot pinks and citrus. So, first decide how you want to decorate your tree.

If there’s a fireplace with a mantle, your next step would be to connect the mantle to the tree using the same colors. If you’re going traditional, you could use evergreens on the mantle, but if you’re going more neutral, you could use a pinecone swag or a feather garland – something that’s more browns and creams. Add candles in whatever colors you have going on with the tree.

On the sofa, you can add holiday pillows such as the Cross Country Skiers pillows we carry from Coral & Tusk, which uses a linen foundation with embroidery on it.

On your coffee table, try using a tray that has a winter arrangement with candles or you can do a bowl full of these really pretty wooden acorns we carry. There’s a really nice gold on the cap part.

Whatever color palette you do choose, you want to repeat the color at least three times in the room. I call it a three-point connection.

Dining room

It’s pretty to dress up the dining room table with a table runner, and you can find them in all different colors and textures. One of my favorites, Christmas Cheer, is also from Coral & Tusk and has bears on it. It’s absolutely gorgeous and whimsical. There are reds, greens, oranges and browns, which are really pretty and not the typical green and red plaid. You can then have your plates and napkins bring out some of the colors that are in that runner. Be creative.

You can also take sofa pillows and put them on dining room chairs to dress them up. It’s sometimes fun to find things that don’t scream Christmas, but are instead more about winter. The skier pillows, for example, are decorations you can keep out after the holiday. So don’t box yourself into Santa Claus or Christmas trees.

We sell a pretty candle holder you can put on a sideboard that you could fill with pinecones or evergreens instead of candles. Again, think outside the box.

We also have these African Zulu baskets that are all very neutral and you can mix in things you already have in your house with say marble Christmas trees and make it very organic.

Powder room

We have these beautiful tea towels, again from Coral & Tusk. One has a Christmas tree and all these critters hiding in the tree looking out at you. Another is a tinsel tree with bears, ice skating bears and, of course, the ski buddies bears.

There are many fun things to do. It doesn’t always have to be classic greens and reds. Hopefully, this gives you some new and fresh ideas.

To find out more, go to

Written for Bend Lifestyle magazine in Oregon.

Michael Bolton – Live In New Jersey

Singing and sharing songs from his heart

By Sue Baldani

The iconic Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown will be welcoming Grammy-award winning artist Michael Bolton on Wednesday, December 7, at 7:30 pm. Performing some of his most beloved classics such as “When a Man Loves a Woman” and “How Can We Be Lovers,” the audience will be able to see, hear and feel the music deep in their souls.

Thanks to his many albums, including a Christmas album, fans can also enjoy listening to Bolton’s music all year long and wherever they may be. Here, this Connecticut guy shares more about his life and love for music.

Tell me about some of your favorite holiday traditions.
The best holiday gift is being able to be home with my daughters and grandchildren which doesn’t get to happen too often due to my constant tour schedule. But when we can all gather at my home in Connecticut it’s the most wonderful time of the year!!

For your This is the Time Christmas album, how did you select which songs to include? Do you have a favorite?
I tend to choose classics in much of my work because they run deep in the DNA of multiple generations and that familiarity of a song connects with people in a personal way that may carry meaning of a time or place in their lives. It’s always a great feeling when the audience can sing along to the songs you’re performing. [Another popular song, It’s Christmas Time, was released in 2020.]

For your Greatest Hits and Holiday Favorites show at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, NJ, this December, what songs are you most looking forward to performing?
I always look forward to performing my hits because they’re what have fueled me and my career and what the audience has come to hear! Over the years many fans have shared with me how songs like “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” or “Time, Love & Tenderness” have marked important moments in their lives or gotten them through tough times. So we get to share in that experience. And then there’s just the feel good songs which let people just get out of their seat and enjoy!

After so many years of sharing your music with your fans, what do you love the most about performing?
I love singing. It’s always been my first love. Stepping up to the mic and allowing my heart and soul to express through music is the greatest gift for me.

It seems like the world is finally starting to come back after COVID. As a performer, it must have been difficult to not be able to perform for a live audience. How did you keep your music alive while the world was shut down?
It was very surreal and tragic for everyone in different ways. For me to get through and still fuel the creativity, I focused on songwriting and did many Zoom sessions to create songs for my new album. It was great getting the time for that in spite of the reason. But we also managed to stay really busy shooting commercials and TV shows with COVID compliance protocols in place, and I started the writing and recording process for my new podcast. Of course I’m absolutely thrilled to be touring again though it’s made finishing some of those other projects more challenging.

How do you want people to feel when listening to your songs?
The important part is that they feel! Whatever they feel is so personal to them but the whole goal is to move people emotionally. To connect.

It’s almost going to be 30 years since you started Michael Bolton Charities. How has the mission of this organization changed and grown throughout the years, especially after COVID ? What are a couple of the charitable organizations it supports that especially touch your heart?
The mission hasn’t changed – we are focused on providing support resources and interventions to assist women and children at risk of domestic violence. Over the years, we have realized that we also need to place focus on interventions that can reduce violent behaviors for the future. We are very proud of our Beyond Trauma Youth Music Therapy programs that help to reduce violent behaviors in young people who are exposed to violence in their everyday lives. We also helped establish a family justice center in New England. This one-stop shop service and support to women affected by domestic violence provides relief at the right time in the right place.

What is one thing you would like people to know about you that hasn’t been publicized, or that would surprise people?
I’m actually a very shy guy!

Tickets are on sale now at Come out and experience an amazing concert and a chance to sing out loud!

Written for Morris City Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.