Santa for Dummies

Santa for Dummies: Kris Kringle dispenses how-to advice

Sticky kids. Crazed parents. A Kringle expert tells all about the many challenges.



St. Nick’s image took one in the shins Monday, when news broke that a Santa at a Mission Viejo mall refused to entertain a girl on the autism spectrum because her service dog was a pit bull.

Whether the accusation was fair or not, it’s the kind of press Santa doesn’t want.

Any Santa worth his salt needs to be willing to do whatever it takes to make a kid happy, not to mention the kids’ parents andwhoever hires you for the gig, says Tim Connaghan, who over the years has trained nearly 3,000 Santas.

“It’s not the beard. It’s not the belly. It’s not the suit. It’s what comes from the heart,” says Connaghan, 67, a former Orange County resident who recently moved to Long Island and flies all over the world portraying Santa Claus.

Also known in Kris Kringle circles as National Santa and Santa Hollywood, Connaghan’s bona fides as a bearded one are unquestionable: He’s the Santa at the Hollywood Christmas Parade and, in 2011, he was inducted into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame. (Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing.)

So when he talks about being the best Santa you can be, he’s not blowing smoke up anybody’s chimney. This Santa is very real.

Q.  What’s the one thing Santa has to do to make kids happy

A.   Listen … He needs to be aware of what’s going on.

If the kids are asking a difficult question, or if they have a difficult situation, Santa has to make them feel good. Even if a child comes up and wants to talk with Santa about getting “Mom and Dad back together because they’re divorced,” or “Grandma passed away and I miss her, and can you bring her back?”

Santa has to let the children know that’s not part of his magic. His magic is toys. But he’s gotta let the child know that he heard what they said. Let them know that even if Mom and Dad are divorced, they both love you very much, and it’s not your fault; it does happen sometimes. And, oh, Santa loves you, too.

When Santa says that, that’s kind of when he’s making a little bit of a turn, because his next question is going to be, “What do you want for Christmas?”

Q.  Is there one thing that you tell Santas to never, ever, ever do; a Cardinal Rule of Santahood?

A.  Never, ever promise …     Sometimes (kids) will ask for things that are not in the family’s budget. Or there’s something that the family can’t have. They ask for a pet. Well, Mom and Dad don’t want a pet around the house, or they live in apartments and they’re not allowed to have one.

Sometimes they’re asking for things that are not for their age group. I mean, you’ve got 5-year-olds asking for iPhones now …

So a lot of times we’ll say, “Well, let me see what I can do. Remember my specialty is toys. Can I surprise you on Christmas morning?”

Q.  What about difficult parents?

A.  You do have parents who are under stress. They’ve come home from work, they’ve grabbed the kids, they’ve got to go get the picture; they’ve had a hard time finding a place to park.

Little things build up … By the time you get to the photo set, everything’s gone wrong.

It’s a little hard sometimes for people to let go and relax.

And then, sometimes, the malls have a big, long line. Some of the photo companies have worked on this where they have their own FastPass, like Disney, to help reduce the line and … reduce the stress.

Q.  And working with reindeer?

A.  Talk to the handler first. Find out the animal’s disposition.

Is there anything the animal is afraid of? If they don’t like bells, I’m not going to wear bells.

The reindeer are in an unusual environment. They’ve never been here before, so they’re kind of curious. Their instinct is to look for predators. If you move too fast next to one of them, you could scare them.

You have to watch out because when they move that little head, they’re moving a 4- or 5-foot rack of antlers that are hard and sometimes sharp.

Even handlers have had problems with reindeer. I’ve seen some videos.

Q.  Does Santa have any trade secrets?

A.  One of the things some Santas do, they put a little bit of baby powder in their beard. I’m talking a little Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder or oil. The talc is really nice. You can actually put a teeny bit of it on your beard and it makes it a little bit whiter-looking. You just gotta make sure you don’t get it all over the fur.

A lot of us have to moisturize a bit, so let’s put a little baby lotion on our face. It has a gardenia smell to it. I think it’s gardenia. And, guess what? To a little baby, now Santa smells like Mommy.

There’s actually a company in Minnesota and they sell “Santa Scents.” They have baby powder, chocolate chip, gingerbread, peppermint – different colognes for Santa that are Christmasy … Peppermint. Wow.

And have a little breath mint nearby.

Q.  How does Santa avoid getting the flu, a cold or some other illness after being in constant close contact with children, aka germ factories?

A.  You need to be in good health. The average Santa’s age is 63. You need to do your stretching exercise, do your walking; keep yourself in good condition.

Get a flu shot. Maybe a pneumonia shot. Vitamins.

Sometimes it’s not really worrying about the flu, it’s worrying about the candy cane all over their hands. That sugar. Kids are like Spider-Man; whatever they touch, they stick to.

You don’t want them stuck to your beard.

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