It’s not particularly geeky, but when I heard about the documentary “Becoming Santa” from Cinema Libre Studio, I had to request a copy for review.
It’s about 44-year-old Jack Sanderson, who’s lost his Christmas spirit. In an attempt to get it back, he bleaches his hair and beard, heads to Santa school and spends a season traveling the country for various events. He’s followed by director Jeff Myers and a film crew.
And, it turns out, he’s a self-professed geek, so there you go.
I was interested in this film by a couple things, including my own love of Santa (I saw him put a present under the tree in my bedroom and disappear when I was a kid) and the thought that this is something I’ve always thought of doing when I get older.
I actually saw a lot of myself in Jack, who’s not that much older, though I can’t imagine starting as Santa at this age.
But Jack isn’t the only Santa interviewed. There are a couple dozen others, many retirees, that include a landscaper, an engineer, a hardware store clerk and a halfway house manager. They all have their own take on why they wanted to be Santa, what Santa means and what his exact origins are.
The film also offers a historical perspective, with some scholarly looks at the origins of Santa Claus, how Thomas Nast and other artists defined him from the Civil War on, and just who the original St. Nicholas was. This part only bogs down when it goes on a tangent about the racial connotations of Black Pete, Santa’s helper in the Netherlands. Yes, the black-face portrayal can be offensive, but it didn’t seem relevant to the film’s story since he was the only Santa “companion” to get so much scrutiny.
But the film really shines whenever Jack is on screen, from when he gets his hair bleached (and is a bit overwhelmed by the fumes) to his final appearances on Christmas Eve doing personal appearances at people’s houses where the kids get to spy on him putting present under the tree. In between, he buys a great suit; attends a Santa school in Denver, Colo. (the Charles Howard Santa School in Midland, Mich., was booked, according to press materials); and does several different events where his skills are tested.
He’s such a regular guy with a simple mission, you can’t help but like him. He totally throws himself into whatever event he’s doing and does great on his feet when things are thrown at him, from squirmy children to an unexpected hour of improv in front of hundreds of kids. Susen Mesco, who runs the American Events Santa School where Jack did his training, tells the camera he could be one of the country’s top Santas. After seeing him in action, there’s no doubt in my mind.
And the interviews before and after each event are poignant and telling. Being Santa is exhausting, and you see that. But you also see how he’s getting his Christmas spirit back a bit more after each event, and how he has great respect for the responsibility he’s taken on.
Being Santa is a great responsibility: To the kids who see you, you’re a superhero and more important than the president. You have to watch what you say, and you can’t let them down.
Jack doesn’t let anyone down, and watching his journey is a great way to find a bit of Christmas spirit, though I definitely wouldn’t recommend watching it with impressionable little ones around.