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VOL. 127 | NO. 250 | Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Magic

Business is good for Santa’s many helpers


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For Rick Jamison of Cordova, the transformation from corporate IT director to Santa Claus began with a hat.

As many children know, sometimes Santa relies on helpers during the busy Christmas season. Delta Foremost Chemical IT Director Rick Jamison of Cordova is one of them.

(Photo Courtesy of Rick Jamison)

“I started out just wearing a Santa hat on Christmas mornings with the family,” he said. “Then it progressed to making occasional appearances at churches and schools. Eventually my friends talked me into doing it professionally. It’s something that’s always been in my heart.”

Jamison is one of thousands of Kris Kringle enthusiasts across the nation who understands that Santa Claus needs a little help this time of year. What with all the toy-making and the sorting through naughty and nice lists and the last-minute sleigh tune-ups, sometimes the Big Man himself can’t make it to every holiday event and relies on helpers to stand in and report back to him.

This is Jamison’s first year as a professional Santa – a job he juggles with his full-time job as director of IT for Delta Foremost Chemical – and he says he couldn’t be happier with the workload. He charges from $100 to $125 an hour, depending on the venue, and by the time the holidays are over, he will have made appearances at close to 20 events. He credits most of this success to his promo kit (or profile) on GigSalad.com, a website that connects event planners with all types of performers.

Mark Steiner, co-owner of the Springfield, Mo.-based company, isn’t surprised to hear it. A new, easy contracting system streamlines the process of booking talent through the website, Steiner said, making it easier for both parties involved. He’s seen an increase in requests for Santas this year and says the most successful ones do everything they can to showcase their credibility and experience on their profiles.

“Anybody can go buy a costume and throw on a beard, but the truly committed Santas go the extra mile,” he said. “They use quality photos, post references, list previous clients, offer to provide a background check – these are keys to Santa success.”

Jamison currently has a five-star rating on his profile, which includes performance reviews by previous clients, photos, links to his personal website (midsouthsanta.com), and detailed information about what clients can expect during his visit.

He also has gone to painstaking measures to ensure an authentic appearance. He owns several Santa suits at $250 each. The Santa boots range from $300 to $500. A good belt runs from $75 to $250. And then there’s what many people consider to be the most crucial Santa factor: the beard. Jamison orders his beards from a theatrical company in New York, and they can cost up to $2,000. Like most theatrical beards, his are glued on.

“One of the most common requests I get is, ‘Can I pull your beard?’” he said. “So I have to be sure it doesn’t come off. And oh, yes, it hurts sometimes!”

And there’s one more important element every good Santa needs.

“You’ve got to have the calling. You can put on the suit, but if you don’t believe it in your heart, you’re not going to be a good Santa. You’ve got to create that magic. You’ve got to feel that joy,” Jamison said.

Judy Noerr, co-CEO of Arvada, Colo.-based The Noerr Programs, can attest to that philosophy, as she has built a career around creating magical experiences. Her company provides Santa photo sessions in nearly 200 regional shopping centers in the United States and Puerto Rico, including Oak Court Mall and Wolfchase Galleria in Memphis. Every detail from the set to the costumes is meticulously perfected, she said, and her Santas are rigorously trained in areas such as ethics, putting nervous children at ease, dealing with difficult questions, basic sign language and Spanish, beard bleaching and more. Many of them attend the company’s Santa University in Arvada, a weeklong immersion in the Santa culture.

“One of our main areas of focus is the generosity and the heart of Santa – we look for people with the right motivation, who really love children and want to make the holidays brighter,” Noerr said. “We’re also very dedicated to giving back to the community.”

Every Noerr Programs Santa experience has a donation box for Save the Children, a nonprofit organization with programs in more than 120 countries for children in need. So far, Noerr Programs and its Santas have raised more than $360,000 for the organization.

At Wolfchase Galleria, Santa Mick – who prefers not to give his last name, per company policy – has been a Santa with Noerr Programs since 1999. One of his favorite Santa memories is that of a uniformed soldier in his 20s who waited patiently in line among many children to get his picture taken.

“When he finally got up to me, I asked, ‘Sir, to what do I owe this honor?’ He said, ‘I’ll be shipping overseas tomorrow, and I’d like to get some nice pictures for my mother and grandmother to remember me by.’ I didn’t like hearing that. I asked him what he meant by saying, ‘remember,’ and he told me he’d been overseas before and he just had a bad feeling that he wouldn’t be coming back this time. It broke my heart.

“So I gathered the elves together and we all hugged him and took pictures with him. On the back of one of them, I wrote a note to his mother with my name and number. I asked her to contact me if anything happened to him. I never heard from her, so as far as I know, he’s OK. But it meant a lot to me that he left here knowing that he had people here who cared about him and what he was doing for the world.”

He always chokes up when he shares that story, he said.

“Sometimes it gets pretty deep, being a Santa.”

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