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December 2, 2011

Inside the Mind (and Sweaty Suit) of Santa

'Becoming Santa' a delightful documentary about what it means to play St. Nick

Now that we're seeing Santas everywhere, you might wonder just what it would be like to grow a white beard, put on that iconic suit and spectacles, and play the part -- even if just for a day. Jack Sanderson wondered the same thing too, especially as Christmas rolled around again after his father's death. Somewhat depressed and disillusioned about facing the holidays for the first time without either parent, the 40-something Sanderson decided that the best way to get into the spirit was to get into the suit and play the role.

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Becoming Santa, a delightful documentary recently released to DVD by Cinema Libre, tells Sanderson's story -- from making the decision, to plopping down 600 bucks for a custom Santa suit, to bleaching his hair and beard white, to going to "Santa school" to learn how to play the role, to travels across the nation for gigs ranging from walking down the narrow aisles of "The Polar Express" to quietly entering people's homes in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve (seriously!).

Sanderson makes for a wonderful Santa, and not just visually. He's got a great disposition, a load of patience (mandatory on this job!), a fine sense of humor, and an excellent manner with children -- not kids, but children. Sanderson learned that at Santa School, where the instructor -- an eccentric-but-amusing woman named Susen Mesco -- stressed that kids are "baby goats," and Santa has nothing to do with them. Real Santas, she insists, bring dignity to the process by addressing them as "children." (Every time a wannabe Santa says "kid," he must drop a dime into a jar as a fine. Sanderson ended up dropping quite a few in the jar before getting the hang of it.)

You'll also learn a lot about the history of Santa Claus in this well-made doc, including the true inspiration for the character, the real St. Nicholas. Mostly, the film is devoid of Christian content -- the real "reason for the season" -- opting instead for secular platitudes about the "spirit of Christmas" and "it's what's in the heart that matters" and such. But don't let that stop you from checking out this educational and entertaining 93-minute gem. If nothing else, it's fascinating to meet the men behind the Santa suits from all over the world.

The film can be purchased at Amazon.com. And here's the trailer:

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