Five hundred forty seven Santa Clauses, Mrs. Santas, elves and helpers recently staged what they called the First International Convention of Santas. It was held in the tiny town of Branson, Missouri -- a tourist attraction known for its many theaters and shows. Convention participants held their first Santa Parade, with their red suits, bells and hats -- all of it in the middle of summer. Jim Bertel narrates this report.
For four days in July, there were Santas everywhere in Branson: in conferences, workshops and seminars, in the theaters of Branson, in sleighs, and in the largest Santa Claus parade ever.
There were nearly 300 of them fully dressed, with more than 200 Mrs. Santas and some elves and helpers. Their average age is 60 years old, their average height 1.92 meters and their weight over 100 kilos. They all have natural beards, and most are snow white.
Timothy Connagham, better known as Santa Tim, was the Convention Director. "There is a lot more than just sitting on a chair and we hope that with the parade and the publicity, people will know how much we do."
Indeed, the Santas were quite busy in July. Over 30 different seminars were offered at the convention, including a variety of issues from how to deal with children suffering from post traumatic stress, to painting faces for the kids, to the care and feeding of Santa's beard.
"Being able to maintain the stuff is foreign to most of you guys; you all want to wash it, put a hat on it and go. And it doesn't work," said one instructor.
"If you have more shampoo and hair care products in your home than your wife does,” says Santa Tim, “you're probably a Santa."
There were also many sponsors and sales. From the most mundane, such as underwear… to the most expensive Santa suits.
But apart from all the jolly men who laugh and sing Christmas carols all year long, there are great stories of joy and generosity.
Santa Tim told this story: "Would you believe my first job as Santa was for some fellow solders? I was in Vietnam with my buddies and somebody mailed us a Santa hat made out of paper, so I put the hat on, put shaving cream on, dressed as Santa and hand delivered the mail to our friends. And they could come up and sit on our lap to take a picture and send the picture to mom and dad. And it was a lot of fun."
Many Santas started their careers just for fun, to amuse their grandchildren or other youngsters. But soon they realized how much they enjoyed it.
"Once they have had the children sitting on their knee, those children are so loving and adoring and wonderful, they are so much here in the heart, that the person now wants to be Santa all the time,” said Santa Tim. “I just did a survey and the average number of children that a Santa may have in a year on his knee is around 13.000."
Many Santas here are very involved with charities. After 30 years with the Marine Corps and a successful career as a medical diagnostic salesman, Ed Butchart dedicated his life to two things: his foundation for people with disabilities and being Santa Claus.
"Now we have given away 16,000 wheelchairs, we've given away thousands of other devices, we've given away almost $60 million worth of stuff and we are still doing it every day," said Butchart.
Santa Ed's foundation in Atlanta has donated wheelchairs in 42 states and 65 countries. He has also been successful with his book "Red Suit Diaries", a story of love and giving.
"I truly do believe in the magic of Christmas,” said Santa, “because I truly believe in the source of the love that Christmas is all about. When you give that love and spread it around it comes back exponentially, more and more."
Whether Christmas is celebrated in July or December, for these Santas Christmas is about the joy of giving. That may be the reason why Santa is so popular.
And we heard that the real one is one is at the convention somewhere…