Calling the head elf to replace an unwell Santa sounds like the makings of a classic Christmas movie, but it really happened to Roger “Santa Roger” Minton.
Working as Twinkle Toes the elf for the past twelve years at his family’s annual Christmas party, Minton’s Santa called off the gig three days in advance, so the then 24-year-old donned the suit for the first time.
It was the start of a lifestyle Minton would dedicate himself to for the next eight years.
“The first few years, I was starting out with a cheap Party City beard and wig set. Then I invested some money into a yak hair beard for a few hundred dollars,” Minton said. “I wanted to know how to take care of it, so I found the online Santa communities. From there, I found the Michigan Association of Professional Santas, or MAPS.”
All the local online communities pointed to one place to become the best Santa Claus, Minton said.
The Charles H. Howard Santa school was founded in 1937 in Midland, Michigan, to teach the art of portraying Santa Claus. Named “The Harvard of Santa Schools” by CBS, the school admits around 200 students a year for a three day intensive class with 45 instructing hours.
It holds the title of the longest running Santa school in the world and has been under the stewardship of dean Tom Valent since 1987. It also graduates Mrs. Clauses through the program.
“It was the best three days I’ve ever had learning,” Minton said. “We went through everything from social media and marketing, makeup, beard styling to what kind of questions children ask and how to answer them. Also, we learned all the history back to St. Nicholas.”
The program also offers sessions on sleigh riding, reindeer and toymaking.
Minton graduated in 2017 at 31 years old, one of the youngest in the class. One of the toughest lessons was how to answer the myriad questions children might come up with, Minton said.
“One thing that really stuck out with me is when a kid asks you ‘what is my address?’ My first response is ‘well, it is 896,363.’ The kid will say ‘that’s not my address.’ But then I say, ‘oh, you must mean your street address. I don’t go by street addresses, I go by rooftop address.’” The trick is to make up something that is believable and kids will assume Santa is telling the truth, Minton said.
Parents also need to learn the do and don’ts of Santa Claus, he added.
“Don’t force your kids to sit on Santa’s lap,” Minton said. “In can be traumatizing to a lot of kids. If you give kids enough time, there is a chance the kid will get on your lap or stand next to Santa, so it will be a nice picture instead of a traumatic experience.”
As the father of two kids, Minton has to be mindful about how he represents his job. His nine-year-old and eleven-year-old still believe in Santa.
“When I decided to grow my beard out, one of the things I did was give them a letter from Santa addressed to me as their dad asking to be a helper Santa,” Minton said. “For the past few years, they’ve assumed I’m a helper Santa and dressing like this is nothing extraordinary in our house anymore.”
Keeping the beard and his hair as wintery white is the most demanding part of portraying St. Nicholas.
“Because I’m a younger Santa, it is not natural for my hair to be white. I had to go through a bleaching process that started last July bleaching my head and my beard,” Minton said. “It was seven bleaching sessions to get it to white, then we use blue and purple toners and shampoo to get the Christmas white look.”
On average, it takes an hour and a half for Minton to transition into Santa. “It is work I love putting in.”
It doesn’t take a graduate of the Charles W. Howard school to be a good Santa, Minton said.
“What makes you a good Santa is if you have the spirit and love in your heart to do it,” he added.
For more information on Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, visit www.santaclausschool.com