Inside the world's longest-running Santa school

Published 1242 GMT (2042 HKT) December 4, 2015
01 santa school RESTRICTED01 santa school RESTRICTED
1 of 10
"Santa is a healthy outdoorsman," says Tom Valent, dean of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan. His Santas-in-training take a fitness class every year to remain limber. Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
The Santas also learn how to make wooden toys at Valent's company, Gerace Construction. Children are going to ask how the toys are made, he says, so it's important for the Santas to have these experiences to draw from when they answer. Caitie McCabe/Mother Images
The Santas get a lesson on how to properly care for their beards, including rubbing peppermint oil in it to add a comforting smell. Those who don't have a natural beard can be fitted for an artificial wig and/or beard that costs between $1,100 and $1,800. Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
Sue Matthews Myers, who calls herself "Santa's personal hairdresser," offers advice on curling a mustache to make it look like it has been windblown by the sleigh ride in. Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
The school runs for three days every October at the Santa House in Midland. The Santas listen to experts speak about marketing, tax laws and Santa Claus' history. Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
There's also time built in for the Santas to bond. It's one of the main reasons alumni return year after year; they say they learn from each other as much as they learn from the experts. Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
"The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School has never really been about being the No. 1 Santa in the world," Holly Valent says. "We try to teach every Santa to make every visit the very best for the child." Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
"Mrs. Claus can be so important today," says Holly Valent, Tom's wife and his Mrs. Claus. "To show children that there's a loving relationship between a husband and wife, because there's so many children today that do not ever see a loving relationship at home. If they can see it in Santa and Mrs. Claus once in a lifetime, they know it's out there." Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
Each Santa has to fill out an application and explain why they want to attend the school. About half the Santas who are accepted are professionals, the Valents say, and the rest portray Santa for charities, churches or in their communities. Caitie McCabe/Mother Image
The history of St. Nicholas is important for every Santa to learn, Tom Valent says. "Know who you are," he tells the Santas. "Know your legend. Know where you came from." Caitie McCabe/Mother Image