Helping Santa


POSTED: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's hard to measure up to the jolly old fellow from the North Pole, but for those charged with bringing joy to little ones, Mike Ching offers some ways to create a realistic Santa experience.

As a magician, Ching is accustomed to creating the “;wow”; factor and does the same when portraying Santa. The operator of Honolulu Santa said that the Santa service became an extension of his holiday magic shows.

“;One of the things that make our service unique is that these are not just sit-down Santas, they are for everyone. Adults, too,”; Ching said. “;Given the opportunity, they walk around the room and meet and greet everyone within reach, smiling, taking pictures, giving them compliments and telling them how nice it is to see them again.

“;That's what the real Santa would do. He knew everyone as a child and doesn't forget them just because they've grown up,”; he added. “;The adults get a kick out of that. For a few moments, they remember what being with Santa was like. Everyone should have the experience of meeting Santa again.”;

The experience involves much more than just a red suit. In fact, the last thing you should do is suit up at the last minute.

“;Always do a test fitting prior to the event,”; he said. “;Suiting up 'cold' for the first time will surprise you with issues you didn't anticipate, and last-minute nervousness always compounds problems.”;

Santas are built from the ground up, says Ching, who says, “;The best order for putting on the suit is: pants, boots, belly apron, makeup (if any), beard, wig, glasses, coat, belt and hat.”;

Ching understands that people recruit friends or co-workers to wear a Santa suit for holiday parties, and that may work out just fine. But sometimes, the costume is poorly done or in bad shape, he explained. He offered the following tips to help avoid mishaps that can ruin the experience for young ones:



Most suits come with fur-trimmed spats for boots, but kids are critical of them and often decide if Santa is real based on whether he wears spats or real boots. Ching suggests cutting the fur trim off the spats and pinning it around the top of black garden boots. Used garden boots may be rehabilitated with soap and water, followed by a wipe with Armor All or black tire sprays.



For padding, the average man can use “;Santa Belly”; aprons sold in larger party and costume shops for around $22. Wear it around your neck like a giant bib and insert a medium bed pillow.

The apron should hold the pillow vertically from crotch level to just around chest level. If positioned too high, it will be difficult to sit and talk to kids.

Ching cuts about a quarter of the top stuffing off an old pillow for correct appearance. In a pinch, a pillow can be safety-pinned inside a T-shirt for padding. Pinning it inside the shirt smoothes it over into a more natural body shape.

Party City in Waikele and Costume Closet off Kapahulu are good sources of Santa togs, Ching said.



When it comes to Santa's hair, you get what you pay for, Ching said. Inexpensive wig-and-beard sets start at $20, but if you are seeking quality, expect to pay $100 or more. The most prestigious sets are custom-made of yak hair and may cost more than $1,000, he said.

The beard/mustache set goes on first. One band of white elastic usually goes over the top of your head, and another goes round the back to hold it securely to your chin. It looks best when your bottom lip shows. Try to line it up well with your mouth.

If the beard is too loose, try safety-pinning the elastic onto itself until the tension is right (elastic tends to relax with time). The mustache is often “;wired,”; allowing you to position it correctly.

A “;Santa Secret”;: Put a 1-inch tab of double-stick tape into the “;chin-cup”; area of the beard just below your lower lip to allow better contact with your face and more realistic mouth movement. Shake the beard out, and fluff it with your fingers to the right shape.

Put on the wig by pinching the front and holding it to your forehead. Pull the back (tagged) part down at the back. If your real hair shows, try tucking a few side locks of hair over it and down under the beard at the side.



Santa might use some light rouge on nose and cheeks for a cold-nipped look, and some might even powder down “;shine”; for the cameras, but for most that's it. Unless you're experienced with makeup, don't try too much.

“;Remember, Santa is masculine. Don't let anyone overdo it and make you look like Dolores Del Rio,”; Ching said.

If you look at the Haddon Sundblom 1930s Coca-Cola St. Nick that inspired the look of modern Santas, you'll notice the jolly man had natural black brows rather than white to match his beard. If you want white brows, they are available at costume shops. They require teasing out and application with spirit gum adhesive, but this detail is unnecessary for the most part, Ching said.

Instead, he uses white lipstick available at Longs. The lipstick is carefully applied over the eyebrows. He finishes the looks with a little baby powder applied with his fingertip. Brush the excess powder away.



Put on the coat and adjust Santa's hair over it. You'll find you can probably open the collar a little for a cooler experience. The beard covers that area anyway.



Belts are the worst part about inexpensive suits, Ching said. They're usually made of flimsy material prone to breaking, so care should be taken to avoid overstressing. “;If you overstuff your Santa, breaking is almost a guarantee,”; said Ching, who made his own belt.

If you have time to make a belt, start with black vinyl. Buckles can be ordered or improvised using a one-fourths-inch piece of plywood painted gold. In a pinch, vinyl could be pinned around the suit with a decorative buckle attached to the front.

Even easier, a black sash may work when dealing with a large, stocky Santa.


On the Net

honolulusanta.com or www.mikechingmagic.com/index.html




Making a list


Santa dos

        » Use good hygiene. Brush, floss and chew breath mints or gum constantly. Santa and his breath should always smell great.

» Check yourself in a mirror before appearing, and invite a friend to double-check and adjust Santa's suit and accessories. Ching said women are much better at this than men. Give the same person permission to discreetly adjust the suit during the course of the event as necessary.


» Have a helper around to lead Santa into a room and assist him with fans. Remember that Santa's range of vision is reduced by his hair. Helpers can also maintain “;crowd control”; if necessary, and keep the suit away from potential hazards like staining coffee, drinks or sticky candy fingers.


» Play music for Santa's entrance. Santa should bring Christmas with him when he enters the room, and grand, joyful music is a great way to do this.


» Pace yourself. Moving around in padded layers of clothing for an hour can be taxing so Santa should wave and make grand gestures rather than darting quickly about. He should also sip water by bottle or straw to maintain his North Pole cool.


» Keep both hands in view when sitting with a child or taking pictures. Everyone will feel better about the shot.




Santa don'ts

        » Don't overstuff Santa. Cheap suit belts are extremely flimsy and break easily. Some people think it's funny to make Santa extra big. That may amuse adults, but kids are smart enough to recognize unrealistic padding, which makes the experience very disappointing to them.

» Never move toward a nervous child. If a child approaches you and seems fearful, don't reach out for them. At least a third of children are naturally wary of new people. If a child is nervous, have a photographer suggest mom or dad stand and hold the child with Santa next to them. They can also sit on the sturdy arm of the chair, or with Santa if they want.


» Sometimes a photographer can get a crying baby's attention with a jingling or squeaking toy. Sometimes that doesn't work but parents want the photo anyway. Occasionally, a crying child warms up to Santa over the course of the event, but not usually.


» Don't promise a gift. Be noncommittal. Say “;Let me see what I can do”; or “;Hmm ... that's a good one! Can I make it a surprise?”;


» Never eat in the suit or drink colored liquids like coffee or punch that can get caught in the beard or soil the suit.


» Never be seen drinking, smoking or change in an area where you might be seen partially out of the suit or you will ruin a child's experience of Santa, and that's not yours to take away.


» Never leave the suit around when Santa's work is done. Always pack it safely away.


» Don't load a sack with heavy gifts (no sense throwing out Santa's back early in the season). Your “;walk-in”; sack could be filled with cardboard boxes with some light gifts on top. Things to give out could be brought in after you sit down.




Tips provided by Mike Ching