Santas Sharpen Their Skills at Michigan School

    01 December, 2017

    As soon as the Thanksgiving holiday is over, Santa Clauses start appearing everywhere – in shopping centers, supermarkets and other places.

    It takes more than red clothing and a white beard to be a professional Santa. In fact, many aspiring Santas attend special classes.

    The CW Howard Santa School is in Midland, Michigan. It is the longest continuously running Santa Claus School in the world. This year, it is celebrating its 80th anniversary.

    VOA recently visited the school.

    More than 250 Santas have gathered at the CW Howard Santa School to prepare for their seasonal work. Charlie W. Howard was the Santa Claus in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade for 17 years. He started the school in 1937. Tom Valent is the school's current leader.

    "At that time, there was a great need for good Santas, better Santas. Santas didn't portray the image that we want. Santa Claus stands for all good things and some of the gentlemen that were portraying that image weren't up to par then."

    Thomas Valent, dean of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, sits in the Santa House in Midland, Michigan, Oct. 29, 2016.
    Thomas Valent, dean of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, sits in the Santa House in Midland, Michigan, Oct. 29, 2016.

    The three-day Santa workshop teaches people "Santa sign language," facts about reindeer and clothing and make-up style. The future Santas also become familiar with the newest wish list toys, gain interview experience for radio and television and even get advice on how to do their business taxes.

    Robert Davis has played Santa for 30 years. He has attended the school several times.

    "I think no matter how good you are at whatever you choose to do, you can always be better. And not only does the school teach you so much, but when you interact with 250 fellow people who love the same thing you do, you learn something new every year."

    The student Santas' headquarters is the Santa House. Tom Valent designed the house in 1986 to look like those made of gingerbread, a Christmas tradition.

    Conservative estimates suggest about 15,000 students have graduated from the Santa School. They come from all over North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia to study. This year, the school welcomed Santas from all 50 states as well as Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and Norway.

    Fred Ostaer is the only Norwegian Santa at the school this year. He is known as Oslo Santa. It is his eighth time at the school.

    "I have been Santa this Christmas 65 years. I started to be a Santa when I was 12."

    The Santas never claim to be the one and only "real" Santa. Instead they describe themselves as "the spirit of Christmas." At the school's opening-night activity, Santa Walk, they tell visiting children they are the "cousins of Santa."

    Robert Davis says they also never promise children anything. Instead they say they will "try their best."

    "Anywhere I go, I try to make my contact and exchange with that child the very best that it can be because that could be that child's best five minutes of the year."

    After all, as founder Charles W. Howard liked to say, "He errs who thinks Santa enters through the chimney. Santa enters through the heart."

    Erika Celeste reported this story for VOA News. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    beard - n. the hair that grows on a man's cheeks and chin

    aspiring - adj. desiring and working to achieve a particular goal

    portray - v. to describe (someone or something) in a particular way

    up to par - expression at an expected or usual level or quality.

    interview - n. a meeting at which people talk to each other in order to ask questions and get information

    err - v. to make a mistake