Santa season used to smell like cookies and eggnog. This year, if you go by the Black Friday hullabaloo, it smells more like pepper spray.
Nevertheless, it’s here. From the massive mall lines to the twinkling porch lights and the Christmas carols that radio host Delilah has been playing since Halloween, it’s undeniably that season. Which is exciting, because that means we get to read more Santa stories. Not just the usual “Santa lands” stories, meant to perpetuate Santa’s story to kids, but weird stories about the subculture of Santa. (In fact, I just created a Google alert for Santa Claus stories).
The first one to catch my eye this season is in today’s New York Times: “In Gloomy Economic Times, Santas Learn to Help by Curbing Expectations.” In it, we learn of the Harvard of Santa schools in Michigan, where the Misters Claus are taught to keep it simple, have sweet-smelling breath and always keep their hands visible. We also learn that they have the power to step in and suggest kids shorten their list, maybe be a little less greedy.
I first became interested in Santa stories when I heard the This American Life piece about sparring factions of Santas, including a Santa coup from the group The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas (AORBS). Admittedly, nothing can beat that story. But I did do my own piece on AORBS, pitting real bearded Santas vs. “designer,” or fake-bearded Santas, for Vegas Seven magazine last year, called “The Bearded Ones.”
I also met, though Facebook, a friend of a friend who has been a mall Santa for years. A traveling Santa (Santas often travel because, I’m told, malls don’t want to have a bearded one that kids could recognize), Billy Mo Buckbee was living in a hotel in Mississippi and commuting to the local mall. While he was suited up and doing his best to keep Santa alive for the kids, his Jeep was robbed. Friends band together and raised more than $300 to replace the GPS and other items that were stolen. I wrote about that incident here.
This year, I hope to delve more into the Santa culture and am on the lookout for odd Santa-centric stories. I’ve got a few brewing, but if you know of any, feel free to share.