The sad side of modern Santa
Rule 1 - Santa never asks children whether they have been naughty or nice. These days all kids are nice (apparently…)
Rule 2 - Santa needs to regulate his ho-ho-hos to a moderate level so as to not scare small children. Therefore, the large bellowing ‘HO-HO-HO’ is a no-no.
Rule 3 – Santa needs to keep his hands visible at all times, especially when photos are taken. This rule is legally in Santa’s best (legal) interests.
Welcome to the lessons of Santa School, where the realities of life reflect a world gone a little mad. And where political correctness, family issues, and some of life’s harsher realities all seem to fall into the lap of a man in a big red suit.
Now, I know what you’re thinking since when were there were so many rules involved in being Santa Claus?
Growing up, many people would have a mental picture of Santa that involves a big man in a red suit who was always happy and jolly.
But modern Santa also has to be not only politically correct, cautious never to offend and always ready with a strategy to help get himself out of trouble.
And the rules simply reflect the ways in which Santa now has to do this.
Last week, my job at The Daily Telegraph lead me to undertake the training course at TSS Westaff Santa School, where more than 700 of the nation’s Santa Claus’ are trained before being sent out into the nation’s shopping malls, department stores and airports.
In many ways Santa School is exactly what you’d picture.
A training place full of men over the age of 50, with white beards and in-built ‘bowls full of jelly’, where they spend the day learning the basics of being Mr Claus. Much of the training is spent covering the basics such reindeer names, toy catalogues, and how to greet parents and children.
But then there’s also the politically correct stuff that a 21st century Santa needs to be aware of.
Each year the radio shock’s jocks point to these rules as evidence of world gone mad and in many ways they’re right.
The fact that many Santa’s have a code with their photographers to let them know if they’re hands aren’t showing should probably worry us all – just a little.
But if I’m honest there’s another part of Santa School training that has stuck in my head for the last few days and it relates to a question that often stops many Santas in their tracks.
The question usually goes along the lines of: “Santa can you bring my mummy back?”
Now, perhaps I’m naïve but it had never really occurred to me that the big man in the red suit might be dealing with such questions.
But speaking with my fellow classmates at Santa School it turns out that Santa can expect to get this question (or some similar variation) perhaps once or twice a Christmas season.
Santa school teaches its trainees that if a child poses such a difficult question then Santa needs to acknowledge the question before moving the topic to a lighter note – ideally associated with Christmas and the reason for their trip to see Santa.
In practice this works as one Santa told the class, “I told them that there are some things even beyond the powers of Santa. But that I know that Daddy would want you to have a very Merry Christmas even if he can’t be there to share it.”
A good answer, but in practice I admit I still struggle with this and I’ve yet to figure out how Santa would apply this formula to, say, a child telling Santa about domestic violence.
Now before you start worrying that the rules and the tales of woe might be leading to a decline in the number men willing sign up let me assure you that there are still many, many Santas who honestly love their job.
One of those men is Gary Cross a 46-year-old man who took up Santa’s position about 10 years ago after he left his job with Telstra.
Gary is exactly the type of man you’d want to be Santa – a big guy with very own ‘bowl full of jelly’ and with a joyful smile.
He is also a cool Santa in that he ‘hi-fives’ kids and looks out for clues that will tell him what they want (i.e. the Omnitrix watch says the kid is nuts about the cartoon series Ben-10).
Santa veteran, Gary Cross, reassures me that “the training is hopefully as worse as it actually gets. But, that said, Santa does need to have a strategy to deal with these questions.”
Each year he deals cautiously with the difficult questions and manages to maintain his happy disposition.
When you ask him why he does it he’s answer in many ways speaks for all his white bearded peers.
“Normally you walk down the street and nobody looks you in the eye. When you walk into the room as Santa Claus, all eyes are on you and people are smiling they are instantly happy” he said.
And after the difficult questions and political correctness gone wrong isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
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