15 November 2011 | StevePulaski
Becoming a slice of humanity
Once you realize that Santa Claus doesn't exist and it was your parents all those years hiding those presents under the tree, Christmas has forever lost its flavor and spark. Or has it? Becoming Santa is one of the jolliest, most-emotional, funniest, cutest, and sweetest documentaries I've ever seen. It documents and answers, thoroughly, a question I've had for many years - what does it take to be a mall Santa? What is the training like? What is the feeling one gets making history in a child's life? Becoming Santa has nothing to hide and nothing to shield from its viewer. It's about a forty-four year old bachelor named Jack Sanderson who resides in snow-less Los Angeles and has been consumed in the Christmas spirit for years. That was until his mother died ten years ago, and his father not too long after. Both were Christmas enthusiasts, and were determined to make every Christmas a memorable one.
Jack decides to bring spirit into his life, but also do it in a way that honors his parents. He makes the bold and pricey decision to become a mall Santa, and go through all the training necessary to be an effective one. What kind of training does one aspiring-Santa go through? There are actually fully functional "Santa Schools" around the country. That is where many chubby, jolly men go and learn how to become the best Santa they can be.
They first make the step to abolish "the k word" (kids). If they say "the k word," they have to put a dime in a jar. Santa teacher Susen Mesco says that they need to sound "Charles Dickens-sy" by using the phrase "hello children," or "good morning, children."
Not only does the film provide a very in-depth look at a mall Santa's struggles, but it also provides extremely factual information on the Santa character and different holiday protagonists/antagonists around the world. St. Nicholas was said to be born in a part of Southern Turkey many, many years ago (the date slips my mind) where his parents died of a vicious plague and he had to stay with his uncle. He inherited his parents fortune, and saw a father with three daughters and no job. St. Nicholas was said to have snuck out one night, to the family's house, and threw gold coins in the daughters' bedroom. He did it for about three nights before being caught by the father. Inevitably, word got out and the legend of St. Nick was born.
Other parts of the country, take Dutch for example, used to depict Christmas as a beautiful time of the year but also a very gloomy time of the year if you were misbehaving. Men with faces painted black, nicknamed "Black Peter," would travel in parades and said to be "evil" and would whip the children who were bad. If you were good you were rewarded with some type of gift. The big problem with the Black Peter character was it would cause mass racial confusion for people, especially children. Only seeing a black man one time a year that would physically harm you if you misbehaved accidentally gave many children fears of people of opposite colors. Thankfully, as clearly stated in the film, tension and discipline have come a long way, and we have nothing like that occurring in the world any more. We also hear other fun facts like the first time the White House has a Christmas tree was during the Franklin Pierce era, and that Christmas Cards became possible after the Civil War period.
Back to the story. Jack is such an enigmatic character alone, but when he puts on the Santa suit and begins mingling with the children for the first time he becomes delightfully and cheerfully charismatic with each and every one of them. Seeing him interact with children and put a smile on many of their faces makes me wish I had an "unforgettable Santa memory." Mine were always traditional and over with in ten minutes or less.
As happy as Jack his, further along in the film he admits that the job becomes "work" after a while and he frequently questions doing it a second year. Some people absolutely adore the smile they bring to children's faces and continue to take on "Santa-duty" year round. Many are interviewed in the film and explain that January is the most depressing month for a Santa. They are no longer looked at with cheer, but ignored and shunned until November of the next year.
I've already said too much. It comes at the end, and I dare not spoil it. I believe I've been spoiling a good film for so many. This is already on the fast track to being one of the best underrated documentaries of all time. Becoming Santa is wonderful, and full of life and story. The facts presented are excellent and unique, the story is instantly intriguing, and the overall effect is almost too overwhelming. You become so engulfed in emotions the film becomes more than a documentary. It becomes nostalgia from your childhood, an inspiring adventure, and so much more. This is a good recommendation for parents who just broke the dreaded "news" to their child or realizes the magic has gone to a mild simmer.
Becoming Santa ranks up there with the repetitive yearly Christmas specials. Only this time, the magic really exists.
Starring: Jack Sanderson and Susen Mesco. Directed by: Jeff Myers.