“Everybody knows the story of Santa. It’s awesome. Santa’s magical.”
That’s how Becoming Santa starts – and it’s a pretty accurate statement. The strange thing is that while everyone knows the story of Santa, that story is different depending on who you ask. There’s a Christmas Santa, a Hindu Santa, a Wiccan Santa… Jeff Myers’ documentary Becoming Santa attempts to show us who Santa really is – not through history lessons, but through the tale of one man pretending to be him for the holidays; a tale that takes the magic of Christmas and strips all the pretence away.
A personal assistant from Los Angeles, Jack Sanderson decides to become Santa after the death of his father. So he starts doing all the necessary things: he grows his beard, bleaches his hair, buys a costume and, finally, goes to Santa school.
It’s a fascinating look at the little-seen side of St. Nick. Through Jack’s journey, we learn that the signature red and white costume will set you back about £650 and that childhood obesity is very real problem in modern society – something his knees find out first hand.
He ho-ho-hos his way through it all, hugging kids and posing for photos – a delightful montage of footage that Myers cuts together with behind the scenes vox pops. Jack’s exhaustion is a repeated theme, but you also see how much work goes into being Santa. The college seminars, led by Susan Mesco, are a bizarrely rigid procedure. “We don’t play Santa,” declares Susan to her class, “We become Santa.” Jack goes to his costume fitter to be measured up. “You should wear pants,” she deadpans.
A lot of it is presented for laughs, which gives the film a jolly, festive appeal (helped along by an amiable soundtrack of seasonal best hits). Sometimes, the laughs are at the expense of babbling babies, but more often they’re borne out of the awkwardness Jack experiences.
“Is there anything I can get you for Christmas?” he asks Susan, as she pretends to be a child in his lap. “Can you find Osama Bin Laden?” she replies. It makes dealing with occupations such as “You sit on a throne of lies” look easy-peasy.
But as Jack becomes Santa, hopping on the local Polar Express train and turning on the Christmas tree lights at a shopping mall, you can see the change in him: he becomes happier. Myers interviews a whole range of people who dress up as Santa for one month of the year and they all have that same smile on their face – one social worker even admits that he gets depressed in January each year.
It’s a personal perspective that gives a new life to the notion of Santa in society. As an interviewee puts it, he’s an icon who represents the values that Christmas should have in all cultures, without any of the obstacles that religion can put in the way.
A brief overview of St. Nick’s origins from a range of historical experts reminds us that we’re really not sure how he became who he is today – but Becoming Santa is a charming little documentary that shows anyone can be Mr. Claus and spread the Christmas spirit, if only for a short while. It’s a hopeful, upbeat message – and by debunking the secrets of Santa, makes Father Christmas seem magical all over again.
But whatever you do, don’t show it your children.
Becoming Santa is no longer available on UK VOD.