Santas come from all walks of life. They are construction workers, police officers, dentists - one member of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas is a practicing heart surgeon, says Santa Tim Connaghan. But regardless of their backgrounds, they all need skills/traits in:
¢ Psychology: You have to be able to size up a child's mood and inclination in a matter of seconds, says Santa Jim Heichelbech. And it's essential that you know how to respond when a child asks for something that can't be delivered under the Christmas tree - such as the return of a parent who has died.
¢ Stamina: Yes, you have to be as jolly at 8 p.m. as you were in the morning as a steady line of children and parents - and sometimes pets - comes your way.
¢ Quick thinking: This is essential for surprise moments, like the time last year when a young boy asked Santa Jim for Viagra. He said he needed the pills to make him strong so he could fight back against the playground bullies. Santa's reply? "What's second on your list?"
¢ Reputation: With the world what it is, Santas who are sent out by the Noerr Programs have yearly background checks.
¢ The right look and mannerisms: A well-groomed white beard, nice-sounding voice and, needless to say, the ability to shake your belly like a bowlful of jelly.
¢ Well-rounded sense of humor: Santa Rick, 60, a retired electrical engineer visiting The Mall at The Source in Westbury, N.Y., is 5-foot-7 and 429 pounds. "I'm about as round as you can get," he says, chuckling.
¢ Diversity: Even as there are black, Asian and Hispanic Santas today, there is a real need for bilingual Santas - with real beards, of course - says Santa Tim Connaghan. He knows of one female Santa who visits a center in Los Angeles for battered women - a place, where, for the most part, men are not allowed.
¢ Sexual harassment: Yes, sometimes women of all ages do try to make a pass at Santa, although generally in a good-natured way. Santa Tim says he will mug for the camera, put an arm around his visitor, strike an "Oooo" expression and say something like, "This should make Grandpa jealous." And if a woman asks in a naughty way if she can go home with Santa, he'll just point out that Mrs. Claus would not allow that.
¢ Image: Santas should keep their white-gloved hands visible to parents at all times, says Santa Jim, who ran a workshop on ethics at the real-bearded Santa group's first convention last summer in Branson, Mo.
And if a provocatively dressed woman wants a photo, Santas generally refuse, says Santa Tim - as they are well aware that such pictures can be spread around the Web as fast as a reindeer racing against sunrise.
¢ Training: In the off-season, Santa Tim travels the country leading workshops on subjects discussed in his self-published 124-page book, "Behind the Red Suit" - topics such as how to answer those tough questions such as "How will you deliver presents if we don't have a chimney?"