Santa Associations: Yes, Virginia, They Exist, and They Aren’t Always Pretty

Is there an association for professional Santa Clauses? You betcha—in fact, there are a bunch of them. The Saint Nick association sector, however, isn't always a friendly place.

Before we go any further, let us go on record: Associations Now believes Santa is real, and there’s only one of him.

But someone’s gotta man the shopping malls and Christmas parades worldwide, and there are associations for people who are doing that hard work each year.

Among them are the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (IBRBS), which represents Santas internationally; the New England Santa Society (NESS); and the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas (FORBS), a California-based group serving St. Nicks in the Southwest.

If I go to the grocery store, I can’t be offstage. Kids look at me, and they know.

The world of Santa associations is a fascinating one, and not always as warm and cheerful as the red cheeks would lead you to believe. More details:

The Benefits of Joining a Society

As humorously highlighted by a 2013 episode of the Comedy Central show Nathan for You, background checks are important for Santas because they work directly with children. Santa groups generally offer inexpensive background checks as a member benefit, as well as the option to purchase an insurance policy that provides up to $2 million in coverage. IBRBS, meanwhile, also offers scholarships to its members and their children.

What Does It Take to Be Santa?

In 2017, FORBS President “Santa” Bob Callahan noted to Time Magazine that it’s necessary to embrace the fact that you’re going to be Santa all 12 months of the year—whether you like it or not. “We’re Santa 24 hours a day,” Callahan told the outlet. “If I go to the grocery store, I can’t be offstage. Kids look at me, and they know.” There’s also the matter of the suit, which the Time article notes can cost as much as $1,000 on its own—not counting accessories such as the belt, which can go for hundreds of dollars themselves.

When Santas Get Together

For many years, FORBS was known to hold a Santa reunion for its members at Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California, and the Time piece notes they’ve recently extended their get-togethers to baseball games. They’re not alone, either. For example, members of NESS meet up at a restaurant every single month, according to WMUR. “As Santa, you never get to see anybody else work, so it was an opportunity to get together, share ideas, and just get to know each other,” NESS President Dan Greenleaf noted to the outlet.

Do Boardroom Conflicts Happen?

They do—and then some. In fact, the competition between Santa groups can be pretty brutal. Take the tale of the two competing Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santa groups, one of which claims that the other is a scam. The conflict, the subject of a 2013 OC Weekly cover story and a 2008 This American Life episode, is anything but a merry tale. But it has plenty of potential appeal: In the past, it’s been rumored that Indie filmmaker Mike White was working on a film based on the story, though nothing’s surfaced as of yet. (A Santa-based documentary, I Am Santa Claus, was released in 2014.)

Another line of work for Santa Claus—stock photo subject. (iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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