Becoming Santa
Becoming Santa
By:, Categories: Words & Images, 2 comments



As I recently walked past Nordstrom’s, Seattle landmark department store, they had their perennial festive frontage of one of the main window displays taken over with the arrival of Santa Claus and kids waiting to be photographed alongside the Big Man. It’s a time-honoured Seattle tradition: Grandparents and parents did this at Nordstrom’s when they were kids, and now they take their own kids – though times have changed, and along with getting the traditional photo, one of the parents can usually be seen taking their own instant family Santa selfie with the iPhone.


All of which led me to wonder what goes into someone wanting to be a Santa in the first place. Turns out I didn’t have much research to do, as I found a wonderful 2011 documentary streaming on Netflix called Becoming Santa, about a regular guy who decides he’s going to take on the role of Santa Claus for a season. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that this is some sort of dire Tim Allen festive frolic. But that’s almost what it is, minus the dire part and Tim Allen.


Instead, this festive crowd-pleaser is all about Jack Sanderson, a former producer’s assistant, writer and voice actor for Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place, who takes on the part of the Christmas mascot and finds out just exactly what it takes to represent him to the kids (sorry, I mean children – you need to watch the doc for this one). Sanderson gets his hair and beard dyed pure white and groomed much in the style of the Coca-Cola Santa; he then invests $600 on a made-to-measure Santa suit; and then enrols in Santa School. When he graduates, he’s given his certificate (which, if it were British, you could say he had three Ho! Levels – sorry, I couldn’t resist that pun) and then embarks on playing Santa for special events and charities.


But along the way, this is where the documentary comes into its own, as it sprinkles about the history of and facts on the said Big Man. Think you know all there is to know about the origins, controversies and cultural depictions of what was a very black Turkish monk called Saint Nicholas, aka Sinterklaas, aka Father Christmas? Believe me, there is much you’re unfamiliar with, particularly the bounty of info provided by a jolly old Civil War historian Santa, the racially controversial colonial holdover of the “blacking up” (think golliwogs and a certain brand of British marmalade here) of Black Pete in the Netherlands, and details of the first department store Santa.


Sanderson is hilarious, intelligent, honest and just sardonic enough to pull this off by being a perfect observer and participant in the whole affair without veering towards the Grinch/Scrooge territory. And it turned out not just to be a documentary one-off Santa experience for Sanderson – a year after the film was released, he ended up getting the best Santa gig in the world. No, not at the legendary Miracle On 34th Street Macy’s in New York. He became Santa for the Tiffany store in Hong Kong, earning himself $16,000 for working from Dec 1-24.


Leica M6 Classic & 50mm pre-asph Summilux V2

Kodak TMax 400

Xtol (1+1 – 10 min)

Plustek 7600i & Vuescan






  • Great article, John. I'll check out Becoming Santa on Netflix.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Mike! I'm sure you'll love Becoming Santa - especially when you discover the Civil War historian Santa.....