It’s a chance for Santas who work at malls, community events and private parties to compare notes and figure out how to make the next holiday season even more jolly. Some men have been performing as Santa for decades; others are new beards, still with a lot to learn.
"I’ve been doing this for 20 years, the past 13 with a real beard," Richard Goodman of La Habra said proudly. "Those of us who’ve been doing it for some time want to be able to pass along what we’ve learned."
Goodman, 77, a retired aerospace engineer, spent the 2007 holiday season – Nov. 27 through Dec. 27 – playing Santa Claus in China.
He’s learned a few lessons along the way that he’s happy to share with his fellow men in red. Among them: "Never promise a child anything, only tell them ‘I’ll try.’"
And when a toddler is restless and a parent insists on them sitting with Santa: "Try sprinkling a little baby powder on your beard. It’s a familiar scent that sometimes comforts the child," Goodman said.
Nelson "Santa Nellie" Burke, 60, a retired truck driver from Garden Grove, sets aside six weeks out of the year to play Santa. He has done this for a dozen years.
"Santa comes from the heart," Burke said. "To have a beard does not make you a Santa. We get a reward in our hearts by making children believe for one more year. It makes people smile."
Santas, and those who aspire to be the jolly old man, will get training.
Several Mrs. Clauses will also attend.
The real beards are a matter of pride for these Santas. Most, including Buena Park councilman Art Brown, sport them year-round.
"I barely notice it anymore," Brown said. "Sometimes I catch people looking at me funny and I wonder why, until I remember, ‘Oh, yeah, the beard.’"
Other Santas, like Ed Howie, 65, of San Clemente typically shave right after the Christmas season. Howie, who teaches junior high and high school students in an alternative education program, said he feels the need to keep his beard trimmed. But he typically starts growing it again in April, partly so he can play King Neptune in San Clemente’s summer Ocean Festival.
On Sunday, Howie came to the luncheon with Rosanne Chaney. She met Howie in the teaching program. She’s retired from teaching now, but she’s remained friends with Howie and her current business card reads "Mrs. Claus."
Nelson Burke, president of the Orange County chapter of the real-bearded Santas, said he found nothing odd about the sight of so many Santas gathered nearly a month after Christmas.
"We’re still in the spirit," Burke said. "For most of us, it’s something we feel 24/7 for 365 days a year.
"Anybody can grow a beard, but you have to have that special joy in your heart to be Santa Claus," said Burke, 61, of Garden Grove. "That’s what we’re here to support."
HO-HO-HO! And LOL!!!