Santa Tom

Known Around the Okanagan. Recognized Across the Globe!

January 3rd, 2007

 

This is an article written by 19-year-old, 2nd-year student Kasandra Bracken in the Journalism Program at Ryerson University in Toronto. As well as playing for the Varsity Women's Volleyball Team and other things she wrote this article which was initially written as a story for her Features Class, an assignment that happened to be due near Christmastime.

 

Many Santas have received some very nice press this year and this girl has written another favorable article. Because of the timing of Kasandra's article due to school deadlines I was thinking that one good turn deserves another, so I agreed to post her article for her in a few places so you could all read it.


Chris “Kringle” Poole cleverly names the work his “sanity clause in my contract with life.” Tom Kliner, who goes by the pseudonym “Santa Tom,” says he’s quit his job this year and gone “full-time Santa.” And nowadays, the proper portrayal of Santa Claus may even require a university degree.

Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle – regardless of the moniker, the big guy is back in a big way for the holidays, somewhere in between mile-long photo lineups in malls and nostalgic Coca-Cola ads. But what makes the man in the red suit “Santa”? Aside from money spent on wardrobe and beard trims, there may be other investments required to be a “real” Santa Claus.

The International University of Santa Claus is run by Kliner’s friend “Santa Tim” Connaghan, credited with appearances on Dr. Phil, the Tonight Show, and most recently, Deal or No Deal. The IUSC has over 1000 graduates, educated through workshops across the U.S., and even in Australia. Graduates pay just $79 to study Santa history, the how-to’s of entertaining children, and current Christmas trends, among other areas of expertise. The basics of being Santa course includes lessons on the ideal hand placement for photos, and how to deal with inconsiderate parents. There is even an entertainment course, where Santas can add balloon art and magic tricks to their résumé. And although the school’s low tuition fee indicates its status as a mock university, graduates are entitled to add the initials BSC (Bachelor of Santa Claus) to their name after receiving their certificate.

A diploma, however, will not satisfy all aspects of the role. In the mayhem of Toronto’s Eaton Centre, where crazed shoppers use overstuffed bags as weapons to cut a path through the crowds, one man remains distinctly jovial, happy to twiddle his white-gloved, pudgy thumbs amidst the surrounding pandemonium. He dons a crimson velvet suit with a furry white trim that matches his beard perfectly. He fills St. Nick’s black leather boots flawlessly, and those in the line-up for Santa photos describe how he’s perfected the look.

 “He’s got a white beard, a red suit, and he’s big, not fat… well yeah, fat,” according to Liz Heathcote, who waits while her brother sits on Santa’s lap.

“It’s always a happy old man who’s pretty big,” agrees Samantha Cheng.

Chris Poole, also known as Kris Kringle, has travelled across Canada, the U.S., and even to Australia in his Santa suit for nearly 30 years. “I’m a little more plump than I used to be,” he pauses, and continues, “more than I should be – but it happens.”

Poole started off with an uncomfortable fake beard. The next step was to quit shaving, but one obstacle remained: Santa’s whiskers must be the colour of snow. Now, “Mrs. Claus”, Poole’s wife, sprays his permanent beard with temporary hair dye.

“It tastes dreadful, but it works,” he says.

Tim Holland, a tourist from Ohio, agreed that real facial hair is a must. “It makes him the number-one seed when he comes in to apply for the job - he’s a natural,” he said while waiting to have his picture taken with Santa.

As the founder of the Fraternity of International Real-Bearded Santas, a worldwide fellowship for naturally-bearded men who portray the holiday hero, Kliner should be considered a wizard of whiskers. Kliner kept himself clean-shaven when he began seeing facial hair at fifteen. His perennial work now requires year-round beard maintenance, including regular bleaching sessions with “Mrs Claus.” 

Kliner, who has appeared on MTV, the Disney channel, and in Time Magazine, is also the creator of “Santa’s Across the Globe”, an online group for “Santas” of all types to network.

Its classified section allows members to list everything from reindeer antlers to reading glasses, while on the discussion board, users discuss designer beard-cleaning (regular shampoos and combing are best), help each other regain missing holiday weight (lots of Mrs. Claus’ cookies), and give advice for responding to kids who want world peace for Christmas (tell them it’s a tall order for Santa, but to hope and pray, according to Santa Bill).

Kliner’s closet holds further proof of his dedication– he owns three Santa suits, two robes, and even more hats than outfits.

“I’ve got one suit worth 3000 dollars, boots and hats from Russia, and a bell set that’s 110 years old,” listed Kliner.

And, according to Kliner, there are different stages of playing Santa. A professional Santa takes his own interest to the point where he acquires higher-grade accessories and suits, works with a schedule, and is active year-round. An amateur, however, is more likely to work local, seasonal events. “He’s not gonna go out and buy a thousand-dollar suit,” laughed Kliner, with a remarkably jolly chuckle.

And that contagious noise may be the most essential part of carrying on the Santa tradition. “It’s got to be a genuine laugh, ‘Ho-Ho-Ho’ is artificial,” said Poole, jovially demonstrating his technique.

With the belly, the beard, and the bellow, some Santas wonder if they’re coming too close to the real Kris Kringle. “I was out wandering around the Grand Canyon and I put on a red hat and probably had fifty pictures taken in a day,” said Kliner. For “Santa Tom”, the alias began with a fun-looking job advertisement. Now, with a belly full of Christmas cookies to keep his figure, and a full-time job commitment, he says, “it has taken over my real life. Honest to god, it really has.”

Written by: Kasandra Bracken


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