Being Santa is a calling, and when the red suit called, Bob Boyer answered.
Ho, ho, ho and hello! My name is Bob Boyer and I have been portraying Santa Claus for 6 years now! I use the word “portraying” Santa instead of “playing” Santa. When you become as obsessed as I have with being the “big guy in the red suit”, believe me, there is no “playing” involved. Don’t get me wrong, it is fun; in fact it is the most amazing, jolly, and fulfilling job a man can hope to have. Think about it for a minute…you can get paid to sit in a big comfy chair in a nice warm Santa suit, listen to the most secret wishes of hundreds of children, and eat all the cookies and milk you want. What a job!
What began as a simple idea to entertain children in front of my house has blossomed into a secondary career. It’s a story made for sharing.
Many other men that I know who portray Santa have told me they felt that the red suit “called to them”. The best Santas I know all share the story of picking up that red jacket with white trim for the first time, and somehow at the end of the night, they “knew” they were meant to be Santa. I agree with this completely, because it happened to me. I didn’t have amazing childhood memories of Santa and I never really gave being a Santa a second thought…until the suit called to me.
First of all, I never really had a big, dramatic experience with Santa that I can remember in my own childhood. I grew up in a very small town in upstate New York and the only Santa I remember seeing was at an Elks club meeting my father took me to. There, someone dressed in red with a horrible fake beard made of polyester gave me a toy gyroscope and said “ho-ho-ho”. Memories of a lifetime? Not so much. So maybe it started at an office Christmas party.
When not letting my belly jiggle as if filled with jelly, I work at a television station, doing most of the marketing and promoting and creating of commercials. One year, I was asked to put on a cheap Santa suit the station had purchased for a Christmas party for employees and their families. I already had a natural beard, but it was very dark and short…not Santa-like at all…so I pulled the fake one that came with the suit over my head and pulled on the thin, red pants and cheesy-looking hat. Bad costume aside, I had a grand time sitting in the conference room in a kitchen chair with several children staring wide-eyed at this Man in Red. I truly enjoyed listening to the eagerness in their voices as they whispered their secret wishes in Santa’s ear.
After work that day, I decided I would bring the suit home and stand out front waving to the cars that came by. Remember Clark Griswald’s house in the “Christmas Vacation” movie? Mine was something like that. Hundreds of tiny twinkle lights lit up the roof line and I had just installed a animated musical light show in the front yard so people could stop in their cars, listen to the music, and watch the lights dance. I donned the suit in my living room and strolled down the hill with a handful of candy canes, thinking I would wave and pass out some candy. The first minivan to spot me pulled over to the curb and the back door was yanked open to reveal several youngsters, all bundled up but excited to see Santa.
Did I say EXCITED? What comes after that? Delirious? Ecstatic? Elated? Sugar rushed to the moon and back? You get the picture. I quickly gave a hearty “Ho ho ho” and asked if they would like some candy canes. They all said yes and then nearly deafened me with simultaneous requests for toys and surprises of every kind. Then, I was blinded by someone in the very back seat with a camera flash going off like the paparazzi. I felt like I had just fallen into my own personal Christmas wonderland. I also wondered just what I had gotten myself into.
This scenario played out several more times over the course of the evening until I ran out of candy canes and made a retreat to the safety of the garage. But I realized I was onto something…this was fun, this was more than fun, this was Christmas spirit and holiday good cheer all brought to life right in front of my eyes. It was like being Elvis but instead of sequins and a jump suit, I had jingle bells and a funny looking hat. I made a few more nightly visits and thought this could be fun to do more often. Then I wondered…how does one go about becoming a “professional Santa”? Could I maybe make some extra money and buy a better suit? Could I find an indoor location with a chair to sit in so as not to be walking up and down my street all night in the cold? So many questions, but I soon found the answer in another holiday tradition… Christmas Trees.
Remember I mentioned that I work in a TV station? The next holiday season, a co-worker was making a commercial for a man who owned a Christmas tree farm. He mentioned that he might be looking for a Santa to work on the weekends. My name came up and I had a meeting with the tree farm owner the next day. That year I had grown my own beard out a little bit more and found a brush-in whitening product to give it a bit of a Santa look. The fake beard was awful. It was hot and smelly and impossible to eat the occasional cookie with it blocking my mouth. I had also visited the local party supply store and bought the nicest looking suit in a bag they had. I figured I would audition on the spot for the tree farm owner. He explained that his previous Santa could no longer work that season and was thrilled to have a replacement. Best of all, he could pay me fifty dollars a day to do it! To be Santa!
Looking back on the pictures from that first season, I can’t believe how terrible I think I looked. The brush-in stuff for the beard was more blue grey than white and I hadn’t found all the custom elements I would later add to the suit: a custom-made belt buckle, fitted real leather boots (no more boot toppers), non-reflective glasses for flash pictures, a North Pole pocket watch….well, you get the picture. That first holiday season found me in a rocking chair inside a cold, drafty cinder block building, where you paid for your fresh cut tree. It was and still is one of the best Santa ‘gigs’ that I do each season, even with all the bling that I have now.
But let’s go back a little. After a few nights in the driveway, I learned I needed help in how to be Santa. Given that the answer to everything is now on the internet, I started there. I found one article that I still have that explains many of the basics to being a good Santa: lots of little tricks of what to do for different ages of children, how Santa never eats in public, what not to eat just before sitting in a chair for 6 hours or more (hint: Santa should skip the beans). Working weekends at the tree farm let me hone my craft. Unlike a mall Santa, the tree farm Santa wasn’t in a race to sell photos or keep the line moving. As families came inside to pay for the tree, they would send the little ones over for a visit with Santa and a photo with their own camera or cell phone. This gave Santa the time he needed to figure things out, like shouting HO HO HO really loudly usually frightens children, and whispering goes a long way in getting the shy ones to sit in the lap.
Also, a pre-holiday season visit to the toy store is a must, along with a couple of days of watching children’s TV shows and the commercials for everything children will be asking Santa for. I learned something new every day and after a month of meeting lots of happy boys and girls, I quickly found out that I could branch out past the tree farm.
A few parents had asked how much I charged for home visits or to come to a school party. I had no idea, but I quickly dreamed up dollar figures that would cover gas costs and suit maintenance and found that I could fill in some days during the week. Working in TV, I got to meet many corporate clients who were in need of Santa to come to their office parties or even appear in TV commercials.
The obsession had begun.
Now that I was going to be Santa professionally, I need to up my game. That meant a longer real beard and a visit to someone who could bleach it white so I wouldn’t be brushing in the make-up stuff for each visit. It also meant a lot more research into how to be the Best Santa Ever, including attending a Santa convention (yes, they are real), and getting online to join a community of Clauses. Santa Bob was becoming a business-a wonderful business. The joy and happiness I get to share with all the little ones who sit on my knee is worth more than any money I will ever make being Santa. So over the next few years, I took my interpretation of Santa to the next level.
Then in 2011, it all nearly ended for me when I suffered a heart attack that led to a heart transplant that led to a heart big enough for Santa.
But that’s a story for another day.
Photo courtesy of Santa Bob (author)
More about Santa:
The Call of the Red Suit Part 2: Santa Needs A Miracle
The Call of the Red Suit Part 3: Santa is Still Here