December is the time where hundreds of thousands of seasonal jobs open up; from extra cashiers, to Christmas tree sellers to Santa Clauses. Especially real-bearded Santas. Their numbers and popularity have been increasing over the years. As Arizona Public Radio’s Justin Regan reports, for many real-bearded Santas it’s more than just a job, it’s a lifestyle.
David Russell Griffiths got his first Santa Claus job when his kids were little and their school was putting on a Christmas play.
“They came right out and said ‘Russ, you’re fat and Jolly, how would you like to be Santa Claus?’” says Griffiths.
That was over 20 years ago. Since then Griffiths, who lives in Show Low, has made a career out of playing Santa. His long, white beard puts him in hot demand. And he takes it very seriously.
“I have more moisturizers for my beard than I do for my body. I moisturize and moisturize each and every day. Even more during the season. I take vitamins that will help beard growth, and keep it looking as good as it possibly can,” says Griffiths.
For a real-bearded Santa like Griffiths, beard upkeep takes a lot of time. He starts bleaching it several months before the Christmas season for the perfect color.
“So it takes me approximately three times of full bleaching to get to a white color. The first couple of bleaches I’m a red top then a carrot top, and then I finally become white enough to finish,” says Griffiths.
Griffiths is one of 1500 members of the International Brotherhood of Real-Bearded Santas, the largest organization in the world for Santas with authentic beards. Fred Selinsky is the chairman.
“The purpose of the International Brotherhood of Real-Bearded Santas was to join all the Santas together so we could share a common interest, help each other. When you can sit down with somebody that does the same thing as you, they understand living with a beard all year long,” says Selinsky.
There are more real-bearded Santas then ever, according to Selinsky. Many companies highlight them as an advertising strategy. Most malls prefer to hire true-bearded Santas.
“Now beards are the thing. If you ever get on a Santa website or Santa talk group, like on Facebook, they’re talking about what bleaches do you use what products are out there,” says Selinsky.
But does a real beard make you Santa?
“To me it doesn’t make a difference if it’s a real beard or a fake beard,” says Greg Thompson.
He’s the owner of The Santa Company in Orlando Florida. His Santas-for-hire wear both real and artificial beards. He thinks the most believable Santas are more about heart than facial hair.
“It’s the person. If they are a real entertainer or if they are just some guy that puts on a suit and says ‘hey I want to make an easy buck being Santa Claus this Christmas’. The main thing is they want the person to come in and be Santa Claus and talk to the kids and have some personality and character,” says Thompson.
Al Kern’s got a whole red sleigh full of personality and character. He’s been the Flagstaff Mall Santa for almost a decade.
“When I first started I was wearing the false beard, but it felt funny, and it didn’t seem right. So I said if I was going to do it, I was going to grow my own beard,” says Kern.
For Kern, being Santa doesn’t stop on December 26th. His beard reminds kids of Christmas all year long.
“Children come up to me in the middle of Walmart. My wife and I will be there and they’ll tug on my pant leg, or sneak behind their mother and point to me. And I’m always glad to talk to all of them,” says Kern.
For Kern and many other working Santas, they embody the Christmas spirit. Their beards just amplify it.