ARVADA, CO (RNN) - Colorado is not the North Pole. But for four days every year, it boasts more jolly old elves per square foot than you can shake a Yule Log at.
Santa University, held annually in Arvada, CO, brings together dozens of Santas from all corners of the country for four days of Santa school.
Yep, like any professional committed to his craft, Santa goes to school.
Which means that knee your child is sitting on at malls around the country belongs to someone who is highly qualified to bring smiles and cherished memories.
"We talk about everything from how to get the best photo. The first 30 seconds that they're with Santa is the best opportunity because the child immediately displays that sense of wonder," said Ruth Rosenquist, official "Santa Wrangler" and director of public relations at The Noerr Programs, which hosts Santa University.
"We talk about how to take a great photo with a pet. We also have special needs community that we serve. [We talk about] how to talk to the media, even Santa ethics."
Santas learn how to calm scared children, and for a digital age that moves as fast as Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, they also learn about social media.
After all, even St. Nick is on Twitter.
Of course, kids sometimes ask for things outside of Santa's control - a horse, a trip to Disney World or a baby brother or sister. Sometimes they ask for something more heartbreakingly personal, like the return of a parent serving overseas.
At Santa U, St. Nicks learn how to deal with those tough requests that can't be fashioned at Santa's workshop and stuffed neatly into a stocking.
"The way we choose the Santas is [we choose] Santas who do have big hearts. They know these kinds of tough questions are asked. The one thing they know is, they never tell a child they are definitely going to get what they're asking for," said Judy Noerr, CEO of Noerr.
"Santa doesn't know what the situation will be. But Santa can be very comforting and encourage them to be strong."
That said, not just anyone can don the red suit.
"It's a calling," Rosenquist said.
"A lot of our Santas find us. We don't necessarily recruit. We have a lot of educators, a lot of gentlemen who have worked with special needs kids. You have to really love what you do to do this kind of work."
Of course, having a heart like Santa is only one part of the equation. The Noerr Programs also emphasizes the Santa look, and beard care and management is part of the class curriculum.
"That's one of the things we really push, is that Santa has the natural beard.
We're capturing memories and those memories are much more memorable when Santa really looks like Santa," Noerr said.
Looking the part is a head-to-toe job, so Santa U has a Santa stylist on hand to help with wardrobe.
"We have a full time costumer who makes all the costumes for Santa by hand. She meets with them and talks with them about how to look their best, wear their hat, what kind of boots and glasses they have to have," Noerr said.
For Kris Kringles, perhaps the best part of Santa U is the chance to swap stories with another elf who has walked a mile in their chimney-climbing boots.
"That's one of the things that makes it so rich, The camaraderie between the new and more experience Santas," said Noerr.
"They love being with other Santas. They form bonds that probably last their lifetime. One of their favorite parts is having the opportunity to get together and talk about their experience and ask questions."
This year, Noerr Santas sit on thrones in Christmas villages in malls in 38 states plus Puerto Rico. That adds up to more than 200 Santas, many of whom are graduates of Santa U, lighting up children's faces.
After a week at Santa U, "The Santas really begin to feel like Santa no matter how much they did before," Noerr said.
Because an authentic Santa creates authentic memories, the kind that capture the innocence and wonder of a child at the most wonderful time of the year.
"The whole world of Santa has changed a bit from when he started out as St. Nicholas. But he's still about the same values, he's still about hopes and dreams and tradition. He's one of those few role models that is still about that positive message," Rosenquist said.
Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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