An award-winning documentary delving into the Santa-for-hire culture, Becoming Santa premiered at Austin’s SXSW film festival and turned out to be an audience favorite, winning the 2011 SXSW Spotlight Premieres Audience Award. The film follows Santa Jack Sanderson as he goes to Santa school and finds out about the true meaning of Christmas.
Set to a nostalgic soundtrack of popular Christmas carols and holiday tunes, Becoming Santa is like re-visiting the sweetest moments of childhood. It begins with a vintage photo montage of kids opening presents and grainy 8mm footage of ecstatic kiddos on Christmas morning.
Then we meet Jack. Jack wants to re-capture his lost Christmas spirit. After seeing an old picture of his late father dressed up like Santa, Jack decides to become a Santa for a season and embark on the sentimental journey of a lifetime.
At 44, Jack already is sporting a pretty great beard, his first act of business is to go to the beauty parlor and get a dye job. What’s amazing is the 30 odd years dying his beard and hair white adds to his age. He gets fitted for and buys a designer suit from Adele’s of Hollywood. Then he enrolls in Santa School. Believe it or not, there are more than one of these Santa Schools across the nation. Usually a two or three-day course, Santa Schools teach avid students how to be every child’s jolly fat hero. They learn the right laugh (three Ho’s. Not a ho more or less), and how to talk to the children. They also learn how to enter rooms, how to hold the children right, and how to explain about the magic of Santa Claus. He attends Denver’s American Events Santa School.
The documentary also discusses and delves into the history and mythology around Santa Claus. They talk about Santa in different cultures, including a black Santa played by white men up in the Nordic regions called Black Peter. Black Peter gives out gifts, but if you’re bad watch out! He’s used almost as a threatening tactic for misbehaving tots.
Throughout Jacks’ own journey to become Santa and the embodiment of the Christmas spirit, the film flashes to interviews with Santas from all walks of life (and skin-color is no barrier). These career Santas all have different belief systems about who they think Santa was or began as, but they share a love for Christmas and everything it stands for; generosity, love, and celebration of kindness.
The documentary is a ton of fun. It’s sometimes ridiculous as the audience falls into the black hole of merriness and watch Santa School novices learn their trade, but it’s done not in the spirit of mockery, but of celebration and appreciation. Director Jeff Myers handled the subject matter honestly, but almost tenderly. Jack is a loveable crack-up, and it looks like he’s having a lot of fun…and his Santa certainly earns his stripes (or candy canes, or whatever Santas-for-hire earn).
The film presents interesting historical information with a great Christmas-y soundtrack, making for a somewhat enjoyable watch.
Becoming Santa Review