The film Bad Santa must have given pause to Santas everywhere last Christmas. Willie, the world’s worst Saint Nick (played by Billy Bob Thornton) was consistently drunk, swore at children and wasn’t averse to pissing himself. Willie wasn’t a Santa at all, in fact, but a troubled con man. The red jacket and white beard were just a means to his real end: cracking safes and making off with department-store loot.
Now meet Good Santa. Nineteen years ago, Victor Nevada started playing Kris Kringle in order to bolster his Calgary real estate business; in 1997, he turned it into a full-time career. With authentic heft and facial hair, and lavish costumes he designs himself, Nevada makes up to $500 CDN an hour. (Some of his jolly counterparts across the border pull in an amazing $80,000
US in a single Christmas season.) Nevada is also the author of All About Being Santa: The Manual of Bringing Joy, a $95 US
tome that outlines everything you need to know to be the perfect Father Christmas.
Becoming Santa, says Nevada, is like becoming HamletÑit requires serious dedication. At his innovative Santa School in Calgary, people from all over the world plunk down $400 US for an intensive weekend course in the festive arts. Aspiring Santas learn how to achieve a “Zen-like state of mind regarding heat,” says Nevada, and how to become experts on the season’s latest toys so they can converse knowledgeably with the kids. Nevada also suggests voice drills (“ho ho, ho ho ho, he he, he he he, ha ha, ha ha ha”) and recommends every Saint Nick read books like Ivanhoe and Great Expectations to practice “flowery” Santa-esque vocabulary.Nevada finds inspiration in unlikely sources. Television evangelists, for example, “know when to pause and how to affect people.” He has also borrowed a signature move from wrestler Hulk Hogan: leaning to one side, putting a hand to his ear and gesticulating for people to yell. “I’m like Liberace playing Santa,” he says.Nevada may be flashy, but he also believes Santa has an important mission. “I try to spot children with low self-esteem, the ones picked last for teams. For me, these children are easy to spot because they’re looking wistfully at you. You can tell they’re used to being rejected. A good Santa will hone in on them and make them the centre of attention.”
Nevada also plays sarcastic or X-rated Santas for adult Christmas parties. He has been known to whip out a mickey of alcohol and take a swig or pull out a pistol from his sack and hold you up. He’s even had party guests throwing around vibrators.Given the choice between Tim Allen in The Santa Clause and Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, Nevada is more intrigued by the latter, even though he points out that Thornton’s just a criminal playing Santa. “I’d love to see a movie where Santa is a badass and he’s the real guy,” he says. Nevada fears that our increasingly politically correct society will force Santa to become blander and blander. He points to the fact that Santa has already had to give up his pipe. What’s next? “He’s going to have to lose weight.”
HOW TO BE SANTA
TIPS FROM VICTOR NEVADA
Never ask children if they’ve been naughty or nice. You’re supposed to know.
Never promise children they will get what they ask for.
Make sure your liability insurance is paid up.
Never reach for or hold out a baby. Babies should always be placed in your lap. Don’t let children straddle your leg. It’s unsafe and it looks awful in a picture.
Say “folks” instead of “parents” because of the large number of broken homes.
Don’t hang around after an event and socialize.
Always ensure an adult is present when you’re speaking with a child.
Bodily hygiene is essential. Stay clean, and avoid foods with onion or garlic.
Don’t smoke or drink while in costume.
Too many “ho ho”s in a row are counterproductive.
Never force your character on non-believers.