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Yes, Santa is real. And he’s in a fraternity

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Santas gather for a monthly International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas meeting, some wearing custom IBRBS gear. The Colorado Springs chapter of IBRBS dubs itself as the “World’s Largest Organization of Professional Santas, Mrs. Claus’s, Spouses, and Associates.”
Photo: Chase McCleary, Rocky Mountain PBS

COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. — Inside the Cowboys for Jesus Church, some of the finest Santas this side of the North Pole came to town to talk the good, the bad and the holly jolly.

The Colorado Springs chapter of IBRBS (formerly known as the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas) held its first monthly meeting of 2024 to discuss positives and negatives of the previous Christmas season, to share advice and best-practices (both legal and magical), and to reflect on what it means to be Santa Claus.

Colorado Voices

International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas

“I love the Santa community,” said Santa McPherson. “It does a lot of good. The fact that you look around and see, in this crazy world of ours, at a time when people kind of start showing more love… it means a lot to me.”

IBRBS dubs itself as the “World’s Largest Organization of Professional Santas, Mrs. Claus’s, Spouses, and Associates.” It was “reborn” in December 2012 following what they call a “somewhat troubled history of some of the prior Santa Groups.”

There are a few other Professional Santa Claus organizations, including the New England Santa Society (NESS) and the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas (FORBS). There have been feuds between and within these organizations. 

Infighting between members of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas made national news in a 2008 episode of This American Life. 

The Colorado Springs chapter of the IBRBS has been sleighing steadily along for about seven years. And in a city with long-standing Christmas institutions, such as the 70-year-old Santa’s North Pole Workshop, 71-year-old NORAD Santa tracking tradition and the century-old Christmas Unlimited, the Colorado Springs IBRBS plays an important role in ensuring the Springs’ Christmas spirit never dies. 

“Unlike the book, I can’t be everywhere at one time… having information readily available, sharing information, networking, is important,” said Santa McPherson. 

Santa McPherson is both the chapter president for Colorado Springs IBRBS as well as a regional director for the Rocky Mountain Region of professional Santas.

Santa McPherson works on both the national and local level for IBRBS.
Photo: Chase McCleary, Rocky Mountain PBS

As such, he is responsible for relaying national information across chapters in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado. He also leads meetings, informational sessions and other professional events for Santas in Southern Colorado.

There are about 2,200 IBRBS members nationwide, with about 100 in Colorado Springs.

“I’m a little different,” said Santa McPherson. “I like to talk about issues that affect the Santa Claus community. Not all chapters do that.”

Once a month, Santas from across Colorado Springs, and often beyond, assemble to discuss issues from Christmases past. Topics to debrief might include contract difficulties, payment complications and scheduling challenges. 

Around 25 Santa Clauses, as well as a few Mrs. Clauses, met on a Saturday in January to process the previous Christmas season. 

Santa McPherson noted that despite the name, the chapter welcomes any Christmas performer to its meetings regardless of veritable facial hair. 

“We have Mrs. Claus — all Christmas performers,” said Santa McPherson. “If you’re a Christmas caroller, or if you’re an elf, whatever Christmas character you decide to perform. They’re all welcome.”

Mrs. Claus and Mrs. Claus pose with an IBRBS cookbook.
Photo: Chase McCleary, Rocky Mountain PBS

Performers shared stories of payment refusals and photo cancellations, as well as the ongoing importance of hand placement — a Santas hands must always be visible to avoid any allegations of inappropriate behavior.

“We all hear about stories of lawsuits and this, that, and another,” said Santa McPherson. “So we try to educate a Santa so they know what to look out for and what to watch… things that will make you a better Santa and that will protect you as being Santa.”

Fortunately, not all discussion topics are as formal.

Meetings frequently include helpful skill-sharing brainstorms where Santas offer different games, props and most importantly, stories that they share with wide-eyed children. 

“Storytelling and your back story. How does an individual Santa’s North Pole look? What are the elves like?” said Santa McPherson. “These are the things that I teach here, because if you don’t have those talking points, you’re going to be outsmarted by a five year-old or a seven year-old. And no Santa wants that.”

For many, sharing stories is the keystone of each IBRBS meeting.
Photo: Chase McCleary, Rocky Mountain PBS

Equally as important to creating such stories is keeping them all straight. And for Santas like Santa Scott, who has been playing the role for more than eight years, journaling to keep track of previous gift wishes is essential. 

“I’m starting to see the same kids each year, and I’ve got to have new stories, new things to talk about,” said Santa Scott. “So if I don’t journal it in, I won’t know what I talked about last year or the year before.”

Santa Scott began Kris Kringling as a volunteer many years before going pro. At the suggestion of his son-in-law, Santa Scott let his white beard grow out and found he liked the look. It wasn’t long before a friend noticed Santa Scott’s resemblance to the big man in red and hooked him up with his first gig at the Georgetown Loop Railroad.

Nearly a decade later, Santa Scott has built up a devoted client base and has appeared in print, television, and internet commercials. 

Santa Scott noted that regardless of one’s religion, Christmas is a time for love and joy.
Photo: Chase McCleary, Rocky Mountain PBS

Yet what many might think is a seasonal role has proved to be a year-round responsibility. 

“You always have to be prepared,” said Santa Scott. “I don’t shave my beard, and especially when I have something red on… that attracts the kids and adults.”

Santa Scott is often identified as Father Christmas in the off-season, oftentimes being approached on the street, in restaurants and sometimes even in bars. He is sure to avoid wearing red when enjoying a drink.

The assiduous eyes of five-year-olds require that a Santa maintain a high level of believability in everything from dress to demeanor.

“Your suit has to be convincing. Your belt has to be convincing. Your boots, they have to be convincing,” said Santa McPherson. “The children pick up on these things.”

Santa Tom traveled all the way from Denver to attend the meeting and collaborate with other Santas.
Photo: Chase McCleary, Rocky Mountain PBS

After settling some of the meeting’s highlighted issues, the (mostly) bearded bunch shared some more uplifting updates, including information on fundraising for those affected by the Maui wildfires, ASL lessons for Santas needing to communicate with hard-of-hearing children, and upcoming classes and trainings for the professional Santa Claus community.

The meeting concluded with fun stories from the previous year.

Many Santas reported that Barbie dolls were far and away the most asked-for toy; one Santa noted a distinct lack of Oppenheimer doll requests.

When asked for a Stanley cup, one Santa told the child he’d get him a pair of skates and that the boy had better start practicing; instead of a hoverboard, another Santa offered a board that “they could hover it over anything they wanted.”

Santa McPherson detailed a strange chat with a young boy dressed in a full suit. He asked Santa for a safe.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Like, a piggy bank?’” said Santa McPherson.

“‘No, no, Santa, I want a safe, like with the dials.’”

“So I asked him, ‘And what are you going to do with said safe?’”

“He said, ‘I have important documentation that I need to store.’”

After 10 to 12 hour days of ho ho ho’ing, it can be difficult to stay in character. That, along with the sometimes steep upfront costs required to be Santa (paying for authentic-looking boots, belts, a suit, and other elements of the costume add up quickly) is enough to make some question whether playing the part is worth it.

But as most Santas will say, they’re not in this for the money.

“It’s the joy, the happiness, and the magic of Christmas every year,” said Santa Scott. “So absolutely, I will be Santa Claus as long as I possibly can, until the day I die.”

“And I’ll always be Santa in my heart, because that’s where it starts. In your heart.”

Chase McCleary is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS.

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