Thursday, January 28, 2016


While HHP Author, Patti J. Smith was in Washington D.C., she stayed with who she considers her sister and brother, Sharon and Jeff Zornes, also known as Mr. & Mrs. Claus. This provided a great opportunity for an interesting blog post.

By Jeff Zornes

Over the last few years, I have been asked about significant change to my appearance. When I explain, the next question is, “What did it take to become a SANTA CLAUS?”

Firstly, let me tell you how I became SANTA CLAUS. For that story, we will have to go back around ten years ago. A teacher who lives next door asked if my wife would come to her class dressed as Mrs. Claus. My wife put an outfit together to include a wallet with pictures of reindeer I had taken at North Pole, AK while working on a temporary duty assignment to Alaska. She showed them to the children while reading to the class. They became believers that she was the real Mrs. Claus. After visiting the class, and several others in the school, she went to the courthouse and Mrs. Claus visited several offices giving out treats for some of the workers and attendees at the courthouse. My wife was on her way and decided we should become a Mr. and Mrs. Claus. When we got home that night, she brought up the idea. I was interested; so we looked up costumes on the internet. After looking at the costs involved, we decided that it was not a good idea at that time.

Skip ahead a couple of years and we thought about it again. That brings us to two and a half years ago. I was driving to work one Friday and realized that I did not shave. This is where I have to share that I spent 20 years in the Army and never had a beard before. Over the weekend, I did not shave and on Monday, I was curious about what I would look like with a beard. This was the start of my transformation.

Over the next few months, it grew and I decided to find out how to trim a beard. I went to my barber and they cut off half the beard. I knew that I wanted to keep it up to look manicured, but lost most of it due to the barbers not seeing my vision of a jolly old Saint Nick that we envision in the Night Before Christmas. I kept the neckline clean but after a while, I started to look like a drunk so I went back to the barber to get a slight trim. After they took off over half the beard, I was not sure what I was going to do.

Not long after that, my wife and I were speaking to the manager of a sewing machine store about classes she provided and I asked if she ever thought about giving a class on how to make a Santa suit. She told me to contact Santa Dale who was an expert in all things Santa. We talked on the phone for over an hour and he gave me several websites to go to for information. I went to his house and we talked some more. The first thing he told me was to never cut the beard. He also provided advice on how to groom and take care of it so I wouldn’t look like a drunk when out in public.

He invited me to a Santa Family Reunion that was taking place in a couple of weeks. They do not have “conventions”; they have family reunions. If children see us, that explains why we all look alike and yes, the real Santa is there, but we cannot tell them who it is. They have to find the real Santa by themselves and they always pick out the real Santa. The date of the reunion was June 2014 and that was the start of my journey into the realm of the world of Claus. Over that weekend with fifty Santa Clauses plus many Mrs. Clauses and elves, we learned the arts such as good storytelling, play acting, inventions to discovery, and good ethics over that weekend. I was on my way to becoming SANTA CLAUS.
I learned that there was one Santa that sold suits, not costumes. Others sold things to help with the look and as well as Christmas and Santa items. I was told of a great beautician that helped with the transformation. She now bleaches my hair, beard and mustache every month to keep up the look. I joined Virginia Santa’s as well as International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santa’s. I learned how to take care of my white hair and at this point now officially have more hair products than Mrs. Claus. I have had to learn how to put on make-up. (I don’t wear it all the time, just when I am going as Santa Claus to an event with pictures.) I had to find out where to get the suit cleaned. If you take it to the wrong cleaners, you will end up with pink fur.

In the two and a half years since the transformation, I have picked up two suits with different looks. One is the traditional look with the fur down the front. The belt is leather with the reindeer around it for decorations was made by the same gentleman that made the belts for The Santa Claus Movie with Tim Alan. The other is an older look with a vest and large cloak that was made for me. My wife and I went to Hollywood, CA to order that one. I will pick up some more over the next five years or so. The reason for multiple suits is because if a child gets sick or has “an accident”, it takes a couple of months to get cleaned so it’s necessary to have back-ups. I have picked up some props to go along with stories to entertain the children. I asked a high school shop teacher to help me build my Santa chair with nutcrackers painted on the back by my wife. We even drove from Virginia to Michigan to pick up a 75-year-old sleigh and visit a reindeer farm.

I am not sure if this journey is a slow move or a jump, but it is a fun one. My wife has picked up a traditional Mrs. Claus outfit and looking at making some dresses for our events. We have done several events as Santa and Mrs. Claus. The best events are when we do them together. Being empty nesters, it has given us a new lease on life. Along with our son being out of the house, Mrs. Claus gave up her business as a home daycare provider of 12 children. Even though we are without children in our home, we get the pleasure of working with children in the community.

In the two seasons of being Santa, I have had kids from two months to well over fifty years on my lap. I have had homeless and Congressmen on my lap. I have done photo sessions in a mall, private home events, corporate parties, senior citizen luncheons, tree lighting ceremonies, two years at the Republican Club House in downtown D.C., homeless events, daycare visits, surprise appearances, and even a birthday party. I have volunteered for two homeless events to give people the chance of getting pictures of their children with Santa free of charge.

Mrs. Claus and Santa are into educational visits as well as spreading the word of God. We carry real reindeer antlers and fur for the children to touch. We have also had the pleasure of spreading the work of God at events. Planting the seed into children’s hearts touches our hearts. It makes us smile when the children know the real reason for the season and want to talk about it.

Next year’s story is to teach patience and I am already working on putting it together. We are ten months away from next season and we are already signed up for a town’s parade in December as well as a heads up on dates to include hospital visits, church events, and a requests from a couple of my repeat visits. We cannot wait.

As for the question of how do you know you have become a Santa, that one is easy. Every time a child passes by with eyes wide as saucers and says, “Hi Santa,” you know you’ve made it.

Each Santa has their own story, but this is mine. Unlike most books, this story will not end. I will keep going as long as I can keep it up. There are Santa Schools to attend, Family reunions that includes from a few to over 1,000 Santa Clauses, getting my beard registered in the national registry of beards, as well as other clubs to join. With each Family Reunion, my wife and I learn more about the world of Santa, but most importantly, we gather more, inventive ways on how best to serve our community.

Patti J. Smith
Author and Inspirational Speaker
San Diego Silent No More Regional Coordinator
Leader, Rachel's Hope - Escondido

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