Coming to a Chimney Near You
Bellaire resident grows the beard, dons the suit, tells the stories.
By Al Parker | Dec. 15, 2018
Jeffery Schatzer isn’t Santa Claus. At least, for most of the year he isn’t. He’s a clean-shaven writer who now makes Bellaire his home after working in Indianapolis and Midland. But as the days shorten, the beard starts to grow, and by the time December rolls around, Schatzer is in full ho-ho-ho mode.
The whole thing started with a joke. A friend called him in 1996 and said they should go to Santa school together. Schatzer agreed, thinking the experience would be good for a few laughs. At the time he was living in Indianapolis, so he headed north to Midland, where the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School had moved 20 years before, after decades in Albion, New York.
The school details the history of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus, proper dress and use of makeup (including professional wig and beard applications), tips for radio and television interviews, plus singing, voice, and presentation skills, including Santa Sign Language. But Schatzer said the best part was meeting and interacting with other Santas.
“The school is secondary. It’s primarily for interacting with others who do this. When I went to Santa school, I got a lot of good stories,” he said.
Schatzer was only 47 when he first went to Santa school, so yes, that beard application did come in handy. Since then, he’s grown into the role. “The older you get and practice, you become really wily,” he said with a chuckle. Plus: “I look how I look.”
The Santa school was fun, but it was a Santa job at the Indianapolis School for the Blind that brought home for Schatzer the importance of what he was doing and who he was portraying. “You steer away from gifts. You paint a picture of the Christmas party. It changed my life,” he said.
“It’s like with senior citizens. I tell seniors how they made Christmas so nice, and they light up like a Christmas tree.”
Of course, playing the jolly old elf with children comes with its own challenges. “How you deal with a child who tells you something, maybe abuse, or has lost a pet or family member or ‘My dad told me Santa isn’t coming this year.’ It’s not all gloom and doom, but you have to prepare your mind.” As an example, he said that for a child with health challenges, he might say, “I can’t fix your body, but I can love you. What I get to do is be there for them.”
On the other hand, Schatzer said he sometimes gets children who try to outfox Santa by asking for a million dollars. That’s where the wily comes in. First he asks the child if he could have half, to which the child almost always readily agrees. Then he bargains him down from there: $100,000, then $50,000, all the way down to $100. Then Schatzer gives the child $100 — in play money.
When he is at events where there are lines of children waiting to see Santa, Schatzer said he’s so focused on the child he’s with that he’s not scoping out those down the line. So he was surprised one time when suddenly in front of his was an adult caregiver accompanying two adults with learning disabilities. He was introduced to Joey and Amy and immediately called Joey by his first name. Joey was stunned Santa knew him by name. “Are you kidding? Everybody knows Joey,” said Santa Schatzer. That broke the ice, and the words came tumbling out.
Schatzer also has an ace in the hole. A speechwriter by trade, Schatzer said that skill played perfectly into his Santa role. “When I started doing this in the ’90s, I wanted to have something folks could have and be reminded of the visit.”
That led to him writing his first Santa book, “The Bird in Santa’s Beard.” It’s the story of a lost sparrow who warms himself in Santa’s fluffy beard. But things get complicated when Santa discovers eggs in his beard, meaning he can’t go visit with the kids. That’s when he enlists some helpers, solving the mystery of how and why there are so many Santas.
He followed that up with “The Elves in Santa’s Workshop” and “The Bump on Santa’s Noggin,” and — for grownups or those on their way there — “Santa Christmas Journal ~ Making a List, Checking It Twice.” Schatzer has also written a history series, “Professor Tuesday’s Awesome Adventures in History” and the other books, as well as scholastic exercises designed to reading assessments.
And this is one Santa who makes sure to keep up with the latest technological advancements, whether that’s a video of Santa in his workshop or wallpaper of Santa’s sleigh against the full moon — with reindeer photobombing it — ana link to a reindeer cam. He’s even got a naughty or nice app on his phone. Because, after all, he is the real Santa.