Thomas L. Myers, a.k.a. Southwest Santa Tom, recently attended a very special school in Dallas to receive his advanced master's degree in Santaclausology. He previously earned his Bachelor of Santa Claus diploma in Phoenix in 2005.
"Being a good Santa is all about balance and not scaring the children," said Myers.
Myers is a member of the nationwide organizations Santa America and The Red Suit Society. He has been a bearded Santa for the past eight years in Carlsbad. His day job is working as project manager for S.M. Stoller Corp. Many know him as the resident Santa at Christmas on the Pecos from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.
Each summer, many Santas and Mrs. Clauses from around the country get ready for the Christmas season by attending a "School 4 Santas" presented by the International University of Santa Claus (IUSC), the largest annual Santa training school in the world.
Santa Tim Connaghan, IUSC chancellor, presents the School for Santas. He is celebrating his 44th year as Santa Claus and has appeared on "The Today Show," "Deal or No Deal," "Dr. Phil" and "The Tonight Show." He has also appeared in print advertising as well as in commercials for Target, JC Penney, Kraft, Old Navy and the Hallmark Channel.
Mastering the Santa persona is much more than ho-ho-ho, Myers explained.
One has to learn about the business of Santa Claus, which also includes every angle and detail on the safety and protocols of working with children.
"In addition to the history of secret gift bringers from St. Nicholas of Myra to our modern-day Santa Claus, we learned about special event appearances, entertainment and presentation styles, beard grooming and maintaining a proper Santa wardrobe," Myer said, noting he has always had a beard.
He also learned about working with special needs children and families, which is a subject near and dear to his heart as a volunteer with Santa-America, Toys for Tots and Eddy County CASA.
"For me, Santa is all about the kids," he said, noting he doesn't have any children of his own.
The color red makes up a great deal of Myers' wardrobe - not just during the holiday season but all year. He has about six Santa costumes. Some were specially made for him in upstate New York and others from Hollywood. His boots are made especially for him in El Paso and his belt and boot buckles are reproductions from the 1947 Christmas movie "Miracle on 34th Street."
"All of my suits get tweaked in some way or another," Myers explained, noting tweaking makes them uniquely his.
Being as authentic a Santa as can be takes studying the legend of Santa Claus, so questions asked by the little ones can be answered correctly. He also has to study up on the newest movie releases and the latest innovative toys. He also confers and networks with other Santas about the tough questions and how they handle particular situations.
A good Santa can't hesitate when asked a question. He always wants to have an answer, he added.
"I do my homework at Toys Us, Target and Walmart," he said, noting his toy research has to be thorough.
Once a little one sits on his knee or beside him, his work begins.
As the resident Santa for Christmas on the Pecos, he has been able to see the same faces year after year of those who keep returning. Sometimes he is in cahoots with parents and presents a child with one of the gifts they wanted most. His work there helps pay for some of his costumes so he can continue his volunteering for special needs children in homes, hospitals and hospices.
"People come back every year at Christmas on the Pecos," he said, noting a familiar face always brings a smile to his face. "I stay busy during the season. "Some children break your heart with their stories," he said, adding when one asks if he can get his or her parents back together, it is always hard. "I always reassure them it isn't their fault.
"Sometimes you to want to cry and sometimes you want to have a belly laugh," he added.
Many have their Christmas list and often the list is a mile long. Some tell him they don't want any toys and ask that he give them to some other child who is in need. "With all the problems of the world, some say, 'I don't believe in you,'" Myers said. "I tell them 'I still believe in you.'"
There are some who persist in talking about not believing in Santa Claus. When this happens, he begins talking about the legend and story of St. Nick. There are often times he has to juggle different aspects because of religious beliefs. Because of this, he tries to educate himself on the beliefs of different religions so as not to hesitate.
"Being Santa is a whole lot more than just putting on a red suit," said Myers.
A question he is asked over and over again is, "Is your beard real," he added, noting most women want to feel his beard and babies often get their little fingers caught in it. Myers will be the first to tell anyone that taking on the Santa persona comes straight from his heart. The joys of the season and the pure delight on the faces of true believers just cement his desire to continue his Santa Claus career.
Myers is also a ventriloquist and has many puppets, including elves, a polar bear, Frosty the Snowman and a female penguin. A couple of his puppets he designed himself. This month he is going to attend a ventriloquist workshop in hopes of honing and perfecting his skill.
"I've always liked puppets," Myers said, noting he began toying with becoming a ventriloquist a couple of years ago.
Although the puppets will add an element of entertainment, being Santa Tom is where his heart lies.
He's also grateful that many birthdays have blessed him with the perfect color beard and hair and also with what he calls the natural bowl full of jelly his belly has become. It all suits him perfectly as Santa.
"It really is an evolution. When I got into it (being Santa), it kind of fit my personality," Myers said.
"It has also opened a lot of doors for me to give back to the community," he added.