Yep, the Beard is Real
Dave Callender ’02 has the Christmas spirit all year round, so much so that he recently arrived at Keene State’s Alumni Center with jingle bells on, illustrating just how much fun he has as a professional Santa Claus.
A resident of Surry, New Hampshire, Callender was freshly returned from Denver, Colorado, where he attended the bi-annual International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas – yes, “real bearded” is an important distinction. At this conference, Santas from around the world (one came all the way from Norway) gather to share tips and to learn. There were 40 different Santa-inspired workshops over the two-day event. Callender enjoyed the American Sign Language workshop, where he learned to sign “Merry Christmas.”
He’s been a real bearded Santa since 2010, though Callender started playing Santa prior to growing out his white whiskers. “When I was working at National Grange Mutual Insurance, they asked me to play Santa at the holiday party,” he says. “It was a lot of fun, so I kept doing it year after year. It just evolved from there.”
Callender, a nontraditional student who majored in computer science at Keene State, typically makes 25 Santa appearances a season. The most notable is the Keene Tree Lighting, which takes place annually the day after Thanksgiving. “I like the tree lighting because that’s the start of my season,” he says. “It’s just so much fun. I arrive on a fire truck, everyone is cheering, you feel like a rock star.”
One of the most surprising things Callender has noticed is that the old adage about getting coal in your stocking doesn’t resonate with this new generation. “Kids don’t know what coal is, so it doesn’t have the same meaning that it used have,” he notes. “Instead, I say, ‘If you’re not good you’ll get socks and underwear.’”
“Santa also never says ‘yes.’ He always says, ‘I’ll see what I can do, we’ll try,’” he adds. “You don’t want to make promises parents can’t keep because you don’t know the situation at home.” Callender goes on to say that he wishes parents would also indicate that the more expensive items come from them rather than from Santa. “When kids return to school and compare their new toys, and some get nicer things, that can cause a problem,” he says.
The most important part of being a professional Santa is staying in character. “You don’t want to ruin the magic,” he says. “Parents come up to me and ask me my name. I always answer Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Père Noël.”
While most don’t realize there are professional Santas (the New England Santa Society has nearly 100 members), it’s hard to picture Dave Callender as anything else. He’s donned real leather boots, a red and white outfit, and is carrying a strap of jingle bells. Even his laugh is jolly and joyful. He certainly convinced a wide-eyed little girl he crossed paths with as he left the Alumni Center after his recent visit, asking her, “Are you being good this year?”