The Santa experience — during the rest of the year

Today–the day after Christmas–the holiday begins to deflate. Stores are taking down decorations, and Santa Claus is packing up his suit.

What happens to Old St. Nick now?

If he is wearing a fake beard, then it comes off and he’s done until next year. But if he has a real beard, he looks like Santa all year long.

“Kids will go up to them in a store and ask, are you Santa Claus?” said filmmaker Tommy Avalone, currently raising funds for a documentary about off-season Santas called “I Am Santa Claus.”

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“They’re Santa all year round. A lot of them feel it’s made their lives better. They can’t go out to a bar and get drunk in front of people,” said Avalone. “They wouldn’t want people seeing Santa Claus be drunk, you know?”

Avalone has started shooting a handful of Santas in their mortal lives, and is raising money through to continue. One of his subjects is Russell Spice of Detroit. A retired salesman, Spice works seven weeks of the year as Santa for a chain of hunting supply stores. Every year he spends about $1,000 at the hair salon to keep his beard white year-round.

“There’s two things we can do–we can try to hide it or we can accent it,” said Spice. “During the year, we wear red clothes. I have red pants, red T-shirts when it’s hot, or red flannel and a red jacket. You play the part. I’m Santa.”

With great power, comes great responsibility. Spice remembers boarding a plane in Philadelphia dressed all in red with a candy-striped walking cane.

“I get on the airplane, but the pilot won’t take off because there’s a 3-year-old who won’t sit down and put on a seat belt. Every hostess had tried, but nothing was working,” Spice said. “The parents were so upset, they were on the verge of being taken off the plane.”

“I got up and said to the hostess, ‘Excuse me, I’ll handle this for you.’ I looked at the young lady. ‘Hello, I bet you didn’t think I’d be on the plane with you.’ And she just looked at me in horror. Oh my God. ‘Now sit down, put your seat belt on.’ And that was it,” said Spice “That kid never peeped for two hours.”

Other off-season Santas work in real estate or construction, as their regular work drops off in the winter. Spice says every day–when he is at the grocery store or in the park–a parent will ask to take his picture.

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