Things You Only Know If You're Santa At Christmas
The Debrief: We spoke to a real life Santa who did Hamley’s and everything to find out what it's REALLY like...
Remember when you were little, and seeing Father Christmas at the grotto, at school or sitting in a toy shop was basically the most exciting thing that had ever happened to you? Yeah, it’s not the same for them. We spoke to Mackenzie Thorpe, an actor who has also been trained at Santa School (an actual thing run by the Ministry of Fun) and done the prestigious Hamley’s gig to learn the secrets of the merriest trade going.
From dodging difficult questions from kids to the psychologically gruelling process of trying to figure out if a child ‘knows’ or not, we learned what it’s really like to bring joy to the girls and boys. When they're not so afraid of you they burst into tears, that is.
You learn how to dodge every difficult question going
At Santa School, he learned all sorts of ways to avoid the tricky questions kids are always asking. ‘You get lots of silly questions because kids like to challenge it. They want to believe, but they want to catch you out,’ he explains. ‘The boots I wear are fur trimmed wellingtons, so I get “Why are you wearing wellingtons?” “Well, they're very practical!” And, “Why haven't your glasses got glass in them?” “Because it’s magic glass!” as well as, “I haven’t got a chimney,” or, “I live in a flat!” So I say I’ll use my magic key and come through the door. “Can you see it? Of course not! Because it‘s magic!” If this isn’t genius, we don’t know what is. On top of this, he‘s learned how to say Merry Christmas in 12 different languages. ‘I always find it tricky, because I know Japanese, but I don't know Cantonese – it’s the same word three times and I just can’t quite get it!'
You’ll occasionally be an emotional wreck
Both the best and the worst things have happened to him as Santa within two hours of each other, which can really send your emotions flying all over the place. ‘During the last session of the day, the first people we saw were two little girls who were lovely. When they sat next to me on my sleigh, they explained they were with mummy’s friends because mummy was in hospital giving birth to little baby Adam. “And you’ll be good big sisters to baby Adam won’t you?” I said, and they replied, “He’s going to die,” Mackenzie remembers. ‘The friend explained that Adam had been diagnosed with an illness that meant he wasn’t expected to live very long. I somehow managed to get out, “But you’ll be good big sisters to baby Adam for the time you have with him?” It was Christmas Eve as well.’ After that, a lady with Downs syndrome came in and talked away, but Mackenzie couldn’t understand what she was saying. ‘But then, when it was time to go, she turned to me and hugged me and said, “I love you Christmas!” and it just breaks your heart. It’s fantastic.’
You get a cool costume, but you have to be careful with the beard
It’s not Mackenzie’s job to sort a costume – that’s the store’s, and they’re normally pretty good. ‘They have specific boots for me because my feet are size 13 and they have to search high and low. Also, I don’t have a pillow because I’m quite fat, which is useful,’ he says. In terms of the beard, though, he has to pay extra, close attention. ‘I’ve got to have the big white beard, elasticated, but it will also be glued as well because you do get certain children who insist on tugging on it. Or someone will come along with a small baby for their first Santa experience and they get their hand wrapped in it.’
You get to play with loads of Christmas toys
Because Father Christmas has to know all the latest toys, and Mackenzie can’t get confused when he asks children what they want for Christmas, Santa School teach the Santas about the top five Christmas toys each year. ‘Normally they’ve bought them, so you can have a little play as well. Essentially, I’m a big kid, which is what Santa needs to be really. He needs to have that twinkle of fun in his eye, so he looks old but you know he's young at heart,’ he says. ‘It also gives me a good excuse to go to the little toy shops and learn what a Mossy Monster is, and be able to talk at length about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Frozen. Frozen is massive.’
You come up with loads of different techniques for dealing with problem children
‘With children who are afraid of you, it’s important to just be very friendly. I have, on occasion, deliberately employed small chocolate coins, as they can be very helpful. I try to have a selection of coins in my pockets, and while all Santa’s don’t do that, I certainly have,’ he says. And for the one’s who don’t believe? Well, the only option is to keep the magic alive, whatever happens. ‘I think you have to treat everyone as though they still believe. I think thats the key for me. Last year I was Santa in a shopping centre, and a girl was obsessed – she’d come round every day to say hi. One day, her mum said, “She knows you’re not santa because you’re not the one we had last year. She knows that you're santas brother and you're helping him...” There are all sorts of ways to keep people believing.’
There is a down side
Firstly, it can be a bit awks. ‘One of my most awkward days in my first year as Santa in Hamleys – which was phenomenal – the kids have a meal with Santa for an hour-long session. One morning it was just one kid on his own, and they normally take up to 15 bookings. Also, he was on the cusp of not believing anymore – the parents were trying to get him excited and it was just not happening.’ Secondly, it can be a bit boring – especially when it’s not December. ‘It can be a bit boring, I started last year in November doing weekends and it was a bit boring. You’re just sat there in full display of everyone and they’re all saying, “Oh look its Santa! We'll come back in a couple of weeks!”’ On top of that, it doesn’t automatically make you feel Christmassy – which was the biggest shock to our systems. ‘I’m afraid I’m a bit bah humbug about Christmas – I hate when you get Christmas starting in October. Plus, my birthday is six days before Christmas, so I get more excited about my birthday, and then start getting excited about Christmas after that!’
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Picture: Levi Mandel
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