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GUY RAZ, HOST:

A warning now: the following story contains Santa information that may not be suitable for younger listeners - we're going to spill the beans. Now, if you've ever entertained the idea of putting on a Santa suit this time of year to make a few extra bucks, professional Santas are here to tell you - or rather to warn you - it is not easy. Here's reporter Katherine Perry.

KATHERINE PERRY, BYLINE: So you're considering becoming a Santa: getting a suit, throwing on a beard. After all, how hard could it be?

JIM MANNING: Being a good Santa Claus, it's a calling.

PERRY: That is Santa Jim Manning, aka Boston Santa. He's been playing Santa for about a decade, doing mostly home visits. He says the first thing you're going to need to do is figure out what kind of Santa you're going to be.

MANNING: There's real bearded and there's designer bearded. Mine is a designer beard. A lot of people refer to them as fake beards, but we don't like to call them that, just because it's - it really is a designer beard or a fashion beard.

PERRY: But Santa Jim says it's more than just the beard that makes the Santa. In his case, it's about fifteen hundred dollars' worth of gear.

MANNING: I have a number of wigs, beard and mustaches.

PERRY: It takes him hours to put on fat suits.

MANNING: Back, butt and belly.

PERRY: Santa Jim says you've got to be part actor, part child whisperer. And even if you manage to master the shy kids, the terrified kids, the drunk adults - he says an improv class really helps there - the Santa is in the details. But in the stratified Santa community, you may not be completely accepted within the Santa society elite.

MANNING: It's seems to me like some of the other real-bearded guys, you know, really feel like by having a real beard that that puts them a step above the designer-bearded Santas, which I don't agree with.

PERRY: But, of course, not all real-bearded Santas feel so superior.

SCOTT CALKIN: Just like every human being is unique, each Santa is unique.

PERRY: Santa Scott Calkin, aka Cape Cod Santa, is one of the illustrious real bearded Santas.

CALKIN: My beard is registered with The National Beard Registry. I belong to the International Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, to the Society of Santas.

PERRY: Santa Scott says if you want to be a Santa and you're serious, he doesn't care if you have a real beard or a designer beard, but you should be fully educated: be able to recite the historic Santa lore, know all the names of the reindeer. But at the end of the day, he says there are parts you can't learn.

CALKIN: I think you have to have that special place in your heart that distinguishes you from being a person with a beard and being Santa with a beard.

PERRY: And if you don't think carefully before you suit up, you could find yourself not so jolly.

BOB PARKIS: I'm a radio Santa, and I hate it.

PERRY: For one night a year, Santa Bob Parkis takes calls from children on the air. He remembers one call from a little girl that made him particularly uncomfortable.

PARKIS: In ending, she said to me: I love you, Santa. I really hate being a kind of a god. It's an artificial construct, and yet here's the real emotion coming from the kid.

PERRY: The responsibility of being a Santa is too great, says Santa Bob. A lesson to all those who would be Santa: think carefully before you don that cap. For NPR News, I'm Katherine Perry.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "HERE COMES SANTA CLAUSE")

RAZ: And this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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