What does it take to be a convincing Father Christmas?
The Day my Dad was Father Christmas...
Its funny what sticks in the mind when you are a child and the magic that clings to it throughout the years. The following is a true story!
One day when I was a little girl at an end of year party someone whispered to me, “Your Dad is going to be Father Christmas”.
I was puzzled, my Dad had disappeared from the party, but he was not Santa!
I only half believed in Father Christmas in those days because I was almost five years old, but one thing I did know, everyone’s favourite uncle Mr. Cooper was always Santa at the party.
Well, I thought - perhaps Mr. Cooper wasn’t there and they needed someone else. It would be a great honour to have my Dad play Santa for all the people at the party, so I longed for him to appear looking pretty much like my Dad in a costume.
When Father Christmas arrived I inspected him closely. He didn’t look quite right for Santa as he had olive skin showing between the white beard and the curly white hair, however, he did not look like my Dad either.
I went up with all the other children and collected my present, which was a book of farmyard stickers I knew would have been supplied and giftwrapped by my parents, but I was afraid to ask Father Christmas whether he really was my Dad.
The man playing Santa gave me a balloon, but he did not say anything special to give his identity away. My Auntie took some photographs and I can view them till this day and try to convince myself that really was Dad under the Santa Costume - perhaps he missed his vocation as an actor!
What are the elements of a successful Santa act?
1) Source a convincing costume and beard.
If you are just being Santa at a party and everybody will recognise you anyway, a cheap felt father Christmas costume will suffice. However, if this is a semi-official Santa act for a club or group, you need to invest in a good velvet/velveteen costume. Some may be satin, which would do in a pinch, but may appear too glossy. Often an organisation which has a regular Santa will be able to supply the costume for you.
I don't think it really matters whether you are burly or slim, so long as the costume has enough material to hang in becoming folds. There is no need to pad it out with a pillow because as a fit Santa could still be convincing. If you are short look out for raised black boots to allow you to appear average height, especially as height can be an identifying factor.
2) Create a sense of expectation that Santa will arrive.
Often this is done for you by other members of the group. Father Christmas' presence may be advertised before the event or spoken of by the organisers early in the event. It is usual for Santa to arrive in the latter half of an event so people have time to anticipate his arrival. Often the meal is consumed before the Santa visitation and gift presentation. If Santa's visit is a surprise, you still need to create some suspense - you could allow small children to glimpse you and have an accomplice whisper that you may be hovering somewhere at the edge of the crowd.
Santa arriving in a police car
3) Stage an entrance.
With the exception of store Santas who sit on their wooden throne in their Styrofoam castle waiting for children to approach them, a Father Christmas needs to make a grand entrance. I have seen Santas arrive:
- riding a motor bike
- being driven in a jeep or utility
- riding a push bike and ringing the bell.
Let your imagination run wild, maybe Santa has a truck in this town, or has access to a live horse.
4) Display the right attitude.
People commonly get picked to be Santa because they have a strong avuncular personality. They are able to greet every child warmly and equally. Do not reveal prior knowledge of people or refer to people by name before you have read their gift label or had them introduced to you by the master of ceremonies. (Notice in the example above, my father showed no favouritism to me as his daughter while acting as Santa.) Ask questions as if you did not know individuals in the group or the lay-out of the hall.
Santa has to be patient and calm as the red suit and fuzzy beard could frighten some children. Parents may wish to have several attempts to get a good photograph of their child with Santa. The suit may be hot on a sweltering day, and some people may challenge you to reveal your identity, which you cannot do without spoiling the act.
5) Leave before the novelty of the visit has worn off.
Most Santas discretely fade towards an exit after giving out the toys and favours, and possibly accepting a small snack. This allows them to get changed and come back as themselves, if they are lucky before anyone has scanned the crowd thoroughly enough to determine which adults are present and absent. After changing out of the Santa paraphernalia, sidle back into the group and try to appear as though you had been there all along. It is possible no one will be fooled, but it is still best for the party atmosphere.