Christmas is almost here! From now until the end of the year we are flooded with airings of How The Grinch Stole Christmas, forced to eat more snowman-shaped cookies than we can possibly digest, and ponder how in the world Harry and Marv made it through the McCallisters’ house without succumbing to the well-thought strategy of a pre-pubescent evil genius. Yet, while all of these traditions are well and good, there’s one symbol of Christmas that comes before all others (sorry, birthday boy): Santa Claus.
Before we go on though, let’s look back at some of the great Santas (and Santa Beards) of yesteryear:
St. Nicholas of Myra – The Original
The man who started it all. Born in 280 AD in what is now Turkey, St. Nicholas would go on to inspire Santa Clauses throughout the ages, along with playing patron saint to maidens, barren wives, sailors, infants, students, thieves, and mother Russia. Although not quite sporting the signature Santa beard, St. Nicholas definitely sported a well-groomed man mane for all of his followers to appreciate.
Coca-Cola Santa – The Re-Brand
Although Coca-Cola isn’t completely responsible for the popularization of Santa’s modern day image, it’s impossible to ignore the company’s continued usage of a burlier Santa, decked out in the jolliest of reds in their seasonal advertising since the 1930s. Larger than life with a beard to match, Coca-Cola’s depiction of Santa is as classic as it gets and would later inspire countless imitators, including one of, if not the most, famous Santa of all time.
Miracle on 34th St Santa – The Inspiration
Although people had seen Santa Claus depicted in print for years, it wasn’t until 1947’s Miracle On 34th Street that people saw Santa come to life in a way only ever experienced seasonally at the local department store. Besides Edmund Gwenn’s joyful tone and bellowing voice, it was his whole appearance, including his impressive beard, that truly solidified him as arguably the most well known Santa of the 20th century (Sorry, Tim Allen).
Marvin Gaye as Santa – The Most Suave
Although not traditionally associated with the Christmas season, in 1975 Marvin Gaye took it upon himself to look super fly dressed as Kris Kringle and succeeded beyond our wildest measures. Although his beard looks a little more well-kept and youthful than most of his counterparts, Marvin’s dedication to the character and perfect representation of holiday joy is what Christmas is really all about. Next time you throw a holiday party, throw on some Marvin and see if anyone objects. If so, they’re definitely getting some coal sent their way.
Nightmare Before Christmas Santa – The Fearless
Let’s look at the series of events that plagues Santa Claus in The Nightmare Before Christmas: He’s first abducted from his own home, taken across inter-dimensional lines to another world he had no idea existed, handed over to a trio of ghoulish hellions that force him down a homemade chimney of sorts, tortured and interrogated by a demon who’s physically constructed out of a rucksack and insects, and after all of that, he still gets out and does his job in record time. In my opinion, there’s this Santa and the rest are all imposters (except maybe for Marvin). Additionally, this guy’s beard goes almost to the floor. If that isn’t dedication to the cause, I just don’t know what is.
The beloved symbol for the most joyous holiday of the year, Santa’s become part of our cultural fabric, but Santa’s yearly appearance doesn’t come without annoyance to some. Along with being responsible for chopping the necessary wood to roast your chestnuts over, there’s one other tradition that beardsmen everywhere have become accustomed to this time of year: the inevitable comments made regarding your facial hair’s Santa-likeness. Sure, 11 months out of the year people simply make Paul Bunyan (or Zach Galifianakis) comments regarding those of us with hairy faces, but then as soon as December rolls around, we’re apparently all trying to be Santa Claus.
Although most of us brush these comments off with a joyful chuckle, there are thousands of men out there attempting to purposefully draw those very comparisons for themselves. In churches, malls, and homes the world over, men are embracing the holiday spirit and portraying Santa to appease friends, family, and, often times, complete strangers. However, have you ever wondered what it takes to be one of the thousands of men around the globe who pick up the red suit each year and portray the man himself? And more importantly, have you ever wondered about Santa’s shaving habits?
Lucky for us, we have an expert in our midst. Tom Valent, dean of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, MI, has been portraying Santa for over 25 years and has taught Santas from around the globe how to embrace the spirit of the season and truly embody jolly ol’ St. Nick himself. Although we could pick Tom’s brain for days on the proper cheek redness required to portray Santa or which shade is best for the signature suit, we decided to focus on one of Santa’s most unique and discernable traits, his robust beard:
Most Have Real Beards
Upwards of 90% of Santas who come to the school (120 enrolled in 2014 alone) grow their own beards and, as Tom points out, that turns being Santa into an all-year commitment. “Having a beard year around means you have to be this character that stands for all of these great things,” he said. “To really get the right length, we’re talking at least eight to nine months of growing your beard out and you end up having to portray this incredibly well-known figure year around.”
Fake Beards Are Pricey
Believe it or not, not all Santas have the same ability to grow the characteristic hearty beard associated with Mr. Claus, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be Santa just because you can’t naturally produce the signature white whiskers. “Some have great beards while others need to invest,” said Mr. Valent. “They either can’t or won’t put the effort in, myself included.” Luckily Santas can purchase beards made out of real hair, for the tidy sum of anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000. “They’re pricey, but they’re perfect for what we need.
Getting The Right Look Can Be Tricky
Imagine after eight months of giving up shaving, you realize your beard is nowhere near the flawless shade of white that’s needed to bring smiles the world over. For those daring enough, there’s a two-step chemical process that many Santas use to achieve that perfect, first-snow-of-the-season white. Similarly, much like your average beardsman, Mr. Valent recommends keeping shampoo away from your beard. “The Santas with real beards start the softening process two to three works before Santa work begins,” he said. “They strictly use conditioner though, no shampoo. The key is for the beard to look soft and flowing, not dry or damaged.”
The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of others and celebrate what a great year it’s been. So from all of us at Urban Beardsman Magazine and Beardbrand, be merry, be festive, and have a safe and happy holiday. Beard on and see you in 2015.
Top Photo courtesy San Diego Shooter