December 9, 2009

CANADA: The Best Santa You Can Be

. EDMONTON, Alberta / / Life / Workology / December 9, 2009 By Jon Tattrie, Metro Canada Jennifer Andrews is not a white-bearded, elderly man. “I’m not a jolly fat guy at all!” she laughs, but the 37-year-old is Head Elf at the Santa School, a world-renowned training centre for top Santas. Based in Calgary, the Santa School draws Father Christmases from all over Canada and the U.S., teaches them the secrets of St. Nick, then dispatches them across the continent and beyond, including to the U.K. and Hong Kong. The school was founded by Victor Nevada, but when he passed away in March, Andrews stepped up to “carry the candy cane.” The school offers a three-pronged approach. “We train Santas, we supply outfits and accessories for Santas, and we book out Santas,” Andrews explains. “What makes a Santa great is what’s in his heart, but you can’t train that. What we train them to do is … how to give the full show when they walk through the door.” Santa’s got to smell right, look “regal” and keep his beard bushy. Professional actors and voice coaches ensure the ho-ho-hos have a North Pole accent. “We don’t want cookie-cutter Santas. We want them to be their own genuine version of that character, because Santa can’t be everywhere all the time,” she says. “He’s a busy guy.” They also train elves and Mrs. Clauses and bring in real reindeer so the L.A. and Miami Santas can “reunite” with their coworkers for photos. The school goes into overdrive to meet the fall need for new Santas and is planning to start offering a spring course to keep up with demand. Gerald Cooper could probably set up a Santa school of his own: He’s been slipping into the big red suit since the 1950s. The 74-year-old and his wife, Betty, team up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus around Halifax. He loves community centres and hospitals, but swore off shopping malls years ago. “You sit there with this warm suit on for one full hour, and it’s a steady stream of kids sitting on your lap,” he recalls. He prefers the quality time of a guest appearance. He advises Santas to keep it short: 15 minutes is all you need to bring the cheer. He’s had a lot of surprising requests for Christmas gifts, including a woman who confided: “Santa, I’d like a man.” No word on what came down her chimney that year. [rc] Copyright 2001-2009, Free Daily News Group Inc