Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go... to Santa School

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YES, LITTLE GIRL, IT'S REAL: Ava Moser, 2, gets a close-up look at Cliff 'Santa' Snider's  mustache as her brother Landon, 5, looks on in Raleigh, N.C.

ALLEN G. BREED / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

YES, LITTLE GIRL, IT'S REAL: Ava Moser, 2, gets a close-up look at Cliff 'Santa' Snider's mustache as her brother Landon, 5, looks on in Raleigh, N.C.

MIDLAND, Mich. -- Where does Santa Claus learn to chortle "Ho, ho, ho!" and listen to the wishes of children all over the world?

He goes to Santa School.

Each year at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, dozens of prospective St. Nicks come to learn the art of being Santa. They are given instruction on the finer points of makeup, wardrobe, sign language and even reindeer care.

Now, the Santa army is deployed all over the world, just in time for Christmas.

Cliff Snider was among the 100-plus Santas and Mrs. Clauses who comprised this year's class of the Midland, Mich., school. He's back in North Carolina now, making his usual rounds, including a recent meet-and-greet in Raleigh.

Sitting in his high-backed Santa chair, Snider had the Moser kids on his lap -- Landon, 5, and Ava, 2.

Ava stared in amazement at his white moustache and beard, glistening after a light coating of glitter spray that Snider tells kids is frost.

"You can touch it. You want to feel it?" Snider asked the little girl.

"Yeah," she said sticking her right index finger just under his nose, before quickly looking away as her mother, Virginia, laughed.

"It's real, isn't it?" he said, smiling.

Snider has portrayed Santa Claus since 1962, but when he made his first trip to Midland about 30 years later, he was more than a little nervous.

"When I saw all the other Santas there and the Mrs. Clauses, I was sort of overwhelmed by the whole thing," he said. "Tom Valent, the director of the school, told me something that I never will forget.

"I told him, I said, 'Tom, I'm not sure that I'll measure up to these guys,' and he said, 'Cliff, you remember that when you go back to High Point, North Carolina, you're Santa Claus. You be the very best Santa Claus that you can be.' "

Some at this year's three-day seminar were first-timers, but quite a few Santas were, as Snider calls them, "returning alumni."

Doug Dodge, a bespectacled, white-bearded Santa from Burlington, Mass., made his second appearance at the Howard school.

"It's an awesome responsibility, and you've got to portray your Santa (with) honesty, integrity," he said following a session on Santa storytelling.

Before that, Dodge and his cohorts filled a hotel ballroom to hear a talk from an accountant on best tax practices, because, after all, Santa must report to the Internal Revenue Service.

Other topics included the history of Santa, resume writing and techniques designed to help them nab the perfect Santa gig.

Tuition is $425 for new students and $395 for returnees. New Mr. and Mrs. Clauses who attend together are eligible for a combo price of $835 while returning couples pay $750.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 11, 2013 C12

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