Stuart Thompson: What I've Learned

Head of the UK's leading Santa academy on maintaining the tradition of Santa Claus.

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Christmas just gets bigger every year. We supply Santa’s helpers to grottos, events and shopping malls all around Scotland and the North of England and the demand keeps increasing.

The distinction between Santa and a Santa’s helper is an important one. There’s only one Santa Claus, of course, but he can’t be everywhere at once. Hence we train his helpers to appear at the grottos and listen to what the kids want for Christmas.

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You can’t underestimate the importance of training. I’m also an entertainment agent, and it was through this that I realised the seasonal demand for good, reliable Santas to appear at events. Together with a friend who is a training consultant we compiled an extensive curriculum that covers everything from the history of Santa Claus through to health and safety and how to deal with various situations that commonly arise.

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Building relationships is vitally important. Not just with the kids, but also with the staff at the places where the grottos are set up. You might be working there eight hours a day for six weeks – their help can be invaluable.

It’s often difficult to keep abreast of what the new toys are. There are so many new ones that become fashionable every year, especially electronics. However, it’s important that a Santa’s helper knows what they are – it helps build a rapport with the children.

The best Santa’s helpers are people who genuinely love Christmas. It might sound obvious, but the people who love Christmas and love kids get a lot of reward from the job. The kids can also tell instantly when someone is genuine.

Kids are still enchanted by Santa. There’s an unfair assumption that nowadays children are somehow cynical. You wouldn’t believe that if you saw them in the grotto. Even if they come in crying and causing a fuss they almost always leave with a big smile on their face. What’s more, the parents are often even more excited than the youngsters.

Reindeers are difficult to handle. They are excitable, flighty creatures and require a lot of careful husbandry before they can pull sleds. You can’t just leave them in a field to graze either; normal grass makes them really sick, so we feed them a special diet of mossy mountain grass.

You always have to be prepared for awkward questions. The most common one, especially if the kids are bit older, is how Santa manages to get to every house in the world in one night. Once you explain that he crosses so many different time zones that he actually has a lot longer they are usually satisfied.

I’ve never come across a genuine Bad Santa. Despite the stereotype, I’ve never once encountered a grumpy old drunk playing the part of Father Christmas.

For more information on the Santa School visit santaschool.co.uk

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