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 https://tinselthymepress.com/.
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.