It's not about their beards. It's about what's in their heart': Inside the world of professional Santas

Saint Nick isn’t the only white-bearded man gearing up for the holidays.

Across Canada, hundreds of professional Santas don the big red suit at malls, parties and private houses – inhabiting not only the clothes but the mystique of the magical man who delivers gifts to many millions of children around the world in a single night.

The appropriately named Ted Carroll, a Santa-for-hire based out of Halifax, says nothing beats seeing the smile on children’s faces when they see the man of the month on their doorstep.

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“I’ve had kid pee themselves, I’ve had one kid say profanely, ‘Holy beep, it’s Santa Claus!”‘ said Carroll, 53, during a phone interview from his home in Halifax. “This stuff, if it doesn’t warm your heart or make you laugh, something’s wrong.”

While Santa is traditionally a Christian figure, Toronto professional Santa Kerry Burns said he’s been embraced by people from all sorts of different religious backgrounds, adding that the magic of Santa “transcends all sorts of different cultures.”

“I get to learn more about life by playing Santa than anything else, because you see people from all different walks of life,” said Burns, 56. “I get to see people every age, every nationality … all the externals disappear, and there’s just love in that moment.”

Burns, who’s been performing as a Santa for the past 15 years both in Toronto and his hometown of Halifax, said a good Santa needs to have three qualities: “You have to have the ho-ho-ho, you have to have the look, and you have to have the heart.”

The “heart” aspect is what matters most to Rozmin Watson, the “North Pole operations manager” with Hire A Santa.

The British Columbia-based company matches up eligible Santas with people holding parties and events. The company works with more than 100 Santas from across the country.

It also holds a one-day “North Pole Santa School” program each fall to help aspiring Santas get off the ground – without the help of a magic sleigh.

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While looking the part is important, Watson said what really makes a good Santa is how passionate he is about his job.

“A lot of people say, ‘We want a real bearded Santa versus a designer bearded Santa,”‘ she said.

“But it’s not about their beards. It’s about what’s in their heart.”

For Carroll, it’s something of a family tradition: Carroll’s late father, who was a volunteer deputy fire chief in the Halifax-area community of Rockingham, used to perform as Santa during Christmas parties at the fire department and around the region.

When Carroll was in his mid-20s, his father asked him to dress up and attend an event in his place because he was sick, igniting a passion that led to Carroll “carrying the torch” by playing Santa Claus for the past 25 years.

In 2016, Carroll’s wife, Kim, created a Mrs. Claus costume so she could tag along.

“I was taking him to the different events, and I’d be sitting in the car and freezing my tushie off while he was inside,” she said. “One day it came in my head: What am I doing sitting out here when I could be having fun with him? So I made my own costume and away I went.”

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The Carrolls used to mostly make house calls, but they’ve recently begun performing at charity events and Christmas parties. Ted estimates the couple saw close to 2,000 kids last year.

A couple of years ago, Carroll got to give a little girl the present she wanted the most: her father.

He was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and had been deployed overseas. He and Carroll devised a plan to surprise the girl.

“I put him in my extra Santa Claus suit, and when they weren’t looking, we switched places. She lost her mind,” recalled Carroll.

“I came back out after he took the beard and the wig off, and I said, ‘Santa did it all this year.’ The little girl just hugged onto her dad and cried tears of joy. I will never forget that.”

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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