Being Santa: 7 men share tales from behind the red suit

Story highlights

  • Being Santa means being part of a special fraternity and magical, storied tradition
  • It also can mean wet infants, screaming toddlers and drunken women demanding sex
  • Whether its a full-on career or a seasonal gig, professional Santas all have stories
  • Men from around the country share what inspired them and tales from behind their red suits
For at least one, it became a star-studded lifestyle, replete with million-dollar jewels, agents and a beard insured for six figures. For some it was a calling, heard as early as age 4 or inherited from elders. For others it began for kicks, a one-time silly gig they got roped into and then loved.
The men who professionally put on the red suit are part of a special fraternity. They usher in a season, spreading cheer and appearing in family photos. They inspire magical thinking, offer hope and keep innocence alive. They stand, bellies out, as proud representatives of a storied tradition.
And while their work is usually jolly and sometimes moving, it comes with its challenges -- wet infants, tantrum-throwing toddlers and drunken women demanding sex, to name a few.
But there are also unexpected questions and impossible-to-meet wish lists. A little boy, for example, asked one Santa if he had a penis. Many children ask Santa to bring back dead grandparents or pets. Others offer lists the length of Santa's arm that include pricey items like iPads, and Santa's job is to manage expectations. Santa also must protect his reputation and the concerns of parents, which is one reason many veterans teach that a Santa must show his hands at all times.
Atop parade floats, in malls or at children's hospitals, they represent one idolized, universally adored character -- so they keep their personal stories to themselves. But these Santas have plenty to say when they're not working. CNN interviewed Santas from north, south, east and west to bring you tales from behind the red suit.
The informer
Not many people answer the phone while washing yak-hair beards, mustaches and wigs. But Phillip Wenz, who rotates through eight of these $1,500 combos, does. For this year-round Santa, who's never had another career, hair-accessory hygiene is just part of the job.
Wenz, 49, was only 4 when he first put on a makeshift red suit, snuck out of the house, strolled into an unsuspecting neighbor's home and, reaching into a pillow case, began passing out candy canes. The shtick stuck. That year, and in the 24 years that followed, he made rounds at the small rural Illinois hospitals where his father worked as CEO. By fifth grade, he was bringing cheer to preschools and nursing homes. At 14, he was in his first parade, and two years later he wrote a term paper about his Santa-life ambitions. He got a D.
Starting at 4, Phillip Wenz knew he wanted to be Santa. He's living his dream.