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Santa Claus

Santa’s employment agency

Good work if you can get it.

If you have had a picture taken with Santa Claus in San Antonio this holiday season, there’s a good chance he was booked through a local business run by a head elf.

That head elf is Renee Davis, CEO of San Antonio-based Santa Express Central, who manages more than 50 professional Santa Clauses across the state, a business Davis said keeps her busy year-round.

“In order to get a really professional Santa, retailers get on it a good 18 months to a year in advance, because it’s that competitive to get a good Santa,” she said.

All of the Santas with Santa Express Central have real beards, Davis said. She puts them through a background check, insures them, outfits them with Santa uniforms, and enrolls them into her own Santa school. There they practice their ho-ho-ho’s and learn how to style themselves properly, speak around children, preserve the magic of Santa Claus, and strike the best poses for the camera. Her training prepares them to be the best Santas they can be, she said.

“My Santas book out very fast, and it’s because of the difference we make,” she said. “They’re taking that extra moment and time, letting the child know, ‘I care, I see you, and I hear you.'”

Between November and December, Davis estimates she books more than 600 events with her Santa Clauses. She has 57 Santas across Texas, though the majority live in the San Antonio and Hill Country area.

Hey, Santa has better things to do than figure out where his next gig is. It’s good that he has someone to do this sort of thing for him. Visit the charmingly retro Santa Express Central webpage to learn more.

It’s Santa season

Ho, ho, ho, y’all.

For two months of the year, Houston aircraft mechanic Lance McLean trades in his coveralls at the end of the day for a red Santa suit.

This year, McLean will don the suit 49 times, beginning Saturday. Twenty-nine of those events will be held at Houston public libraries.

“My ex-wife thought I’d make a good Santa Claus, so she started researching it back in 2007,” McLean, 57, said. “I’d played Santa for a friend at his church, so I knew what to expect.”

Internet research led to Lone Star Santas, a local nonprofit based in Cypress. The group includes some 350 Santa Clauses, Mrs. Clauses and elves who work throughout Texas. Members network, socialize and organize special events for disaster-stricken areas.

“Once you play Santa Claus, you fall in love with it,” said Jim Fletcher, who co-founded the group in 2007. “Not many people can walk into a room and brighten it up like Santa Claus.”

I’ve written about the Lone Star Santas before. They’re a cool group, even if their website hasn’t had a style update since their founding in 2007. As it happens, I have a coworker now who does Santa stuff on the side. This is a busy time of year for him, as you might guess. I don’t really have any point to make here, I just figured we could use a little Santa right about now.

Saturday video break: The State of New York concedes the existence of Santa Claus

A climactic scene from one of my favorite movies of all time:

That is of course the one true version of Miracle on 34th Street, the original 1947 version. I do not speak of the 1994 remake, but I will concede that this is a movie that really could be reimagined in a contemporary light. I mean, my kids have never written a letter to Santa Claus. I’d bet most kids from the last ten or twenty years have never written letters to Santa. You can’t have that scene without actual by-God on-paper delivered-by-the-USPS letters to Santa. How would you do a scene where the judge is finally convinced that this is the One True Santa? I don’t know that there’s a similar authority that could be invoked today like the USPS was in 1947. How would you do it?

Lone Star Santas

I love this story by Lisa Gray.

Yes, Santa drives a pickup

When Jim Fletcher asked his fiancee whether she’d mind if he grew a beard, Madge Boyer didn’t realize what she was getting into.

That was in early 2007, not long after he’d played Santa for his civic club Christmas party. In the red suit, he wasn’t just a retired product quality engineer. He was the party’s focus, the object of children’s adoration and adult smiles. Madge, who’d played Mrs. Claus, had a good time, too. But she thought that was that.

As his beard grew in, though, Jim began to wear red every day: Red suspenders, red sneakers, red shorts, polo shirts with candy-cane stripes, even a red business suit. He traded in the costume-shop Santa suit for tailor-made editions. His belt buckles said “SANTA.” He hand-carved an elaborate walking cane and, for formal occasions, a tall staff emblazoned with reindeer.

When working in the yard, he’d add a red cap to his regular work clothes. If he had to drop by the hardware store, he’d shower first and change into an outfit worthy of his station.

He studied “Behind the Red Suit,” a book about the business side of Santa-hood. At a Dallas seminar hosted by the International University of Santa Claus, he learned Santa history and lore, as well as the fine points of beard maintenance. He swore the Santa Claus oath, promising to use his powers to “create happiness, spread love and make fantasies come to life.” He printed business cards with a number for his “sleigh phone.” During the off-season, he kept his 100-year-old mahogany Santa throne by the living-room fireplace.

When Jim and Madge went to restaurants, children’s heads swiveled. He’d leave her at the table and go talk to every kid in the place. On the freeway, admirers snapped photos of him behind the wheel of his red pickup, with its CLAUS license plates. “It was like being with a movie star,” Madge says. “I didn’t like it at first.”

But Jim was no longer just Jim; he’d become Santa Jim. Santa was part of the Jim Fletcher package.


After the holidays, the Fletchers spend a surprising amount of time in the company of other Claus couples. In Jim’s first year as a Santa, he helped launch Lone Star Santas, a fraternal organization open to Clauses, Mrs. Clauses, elves and reindeer herders. The first meeting, in Brenham, attracted about five Santas. Now, with roughly 120, it’s one of the biggest regional Santa groups in the country.

It’s an inclusive group, Jim says proudly. Some Santa organizations limit membership to real-beard Santas, but Lone Star Santas has at least two “skin chins” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (Their day jobs don’t permit facial hair.) Membership includes Hispanic Santas, at least one black Santa and a couple of gay ones. “We even had one gal – a rotund, jolly gal – who talked to us about joining as a Santa, not a Mrs. Claus,” Jim says. “She didn’t end up joining. But as long as someone passes the background check, pays their dues and has the spirit of Christmas, that’s all we care about.”

This. That’s what it’s all about. It’s what Santa Claus stands for, not what he – or she – looks like. I could quote the whole thing, but I’ll hold back. Just go read it and feel good about the spirit of giving that makes Santa Claus what he is.

Merry Christmas from Pancho Claus

If it’s Christmas time, it must be time for a Pancho Claus story.

Santa and Pancho

He usually has black hair and a black beard, sometimes just a mustache. Like Santa, he wears a hat — though often it’s a sombrero. He dons a serape or a poncho and, in one case, a red and black zoot suit. And he makes his grand entrance on lowriders or Harleys or led by a pack of burros instead of eight reindeer.

Meet Pancho Claus, the Tex-Mex Santa.

Amid all the talk about Santa Claus’ race, spawned by a Fox News commentator’s remarks that both Santa and Jesus were white, there is, in the Lone Star State, a Hispanic version of Santa in cities from the border to the plains — handing out gifts for low-income and at-risk children.

Born from the Chicano civil rights movement, Pancho Claus is a mostly Texas thing, historians say, though there may be one somewhere in California. Lorenzo Cano, a Mexican-American studies scholar at the University of Houston, says Pancho was apparently conceived north of the border as Mexican-Americans looked to “build a place and a space for themselves” in the 1970s. His rise coincided with a growing interest in Mexican art, Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day and other cultural events.

Now, Pancho is an adored Christmas fixture in many Texas cities.

“We have kids that we ask, ‘Did Santa Claus come to see you?’ and they say, ‘No he didn’t. But Pancho Claus did,'” says Robert Narvaiz, vice commander for Lubbock’s American GI Forum and coordinator of that city’s Pancho project.

Each city’s Pancho has a unique local flavor, but all share roots that set Pancho apart from Santa. Here’s a look at just a few. Oh, and Feliz Navidad, amigos.

For God’s sake, don’t tell Megyn Kelly about this! I’ve blogged about Pancho Claus before – Houston’s version is played by Richard Reyes, whom you see in the photo above, but he’s far from the only one, and his look as Pancho Claus is unique to him. I love reading about Pancho Claus, not just because of the good works the various Panchos do, but also because of the beautiful way he represents the utility and versatility of the Santa Claus story. There are as many variations on Pancho Claus as there are on Santa Claus/Father Christmas, and it always amazes me how adaptable that legend is. It’s true that there are some people whose small minds can’t handle anything that doesn’t resemble themselves or the stories they grew up with, but those people will always be with us in one form or another. No reason to let them detract from the wonder of Pancho Claus. Feliz Navidad, y’all.

Saturday video break: Santa Claus Is A Black Man

In honor of Megyn Kelly:

If you listen closely, you can hear the heads exploding. Via The Slacktivist.

Friday random ten: You better watch out

I have a ton of Christmas music in my collection, but only ten songs that refer to Santa Claus in the title:

1. Back Door Santa – Jon Bon Jovi
2. Here Comes Santa Claus – Asleep At The Wheel
3. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – John Mellencamp
4. The Night Santa Went Crazy – Weird Al Yankovic
5. Ride On, Santa, Ride On – The Priestess and The Fool
6. Santa Baby – Madonna
7. Santa Brought Me Clothes – Trout Fishing in America
8. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Ella Fitzgerald
9. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Pointer Sisters
10. Zat You, Santa Claus? – Asylum Street Spankers

We’re one week out, so I hope everyone is being nice. What’s Santa bringing to your iPod this week?