Becoming Santa: a school for making dreams come true
TAKE-OFF:Father Christmas hasn’t started putting up his Christmas cards yet. They are still being stockpiled after his official sorting office and postal address were moved nearer to his turf-roofed home on the north-west coast of Greenland.
But when he does, pride of place will be given to a letter he received in 1946, addressed to “Santy Claus c/o The North Pole.” It came from Drumcondra and requested a soldier’s helmet and a rifle. Until recently it hung in the post office of Nuuk town.
Now, the 100,000 letters and Christmas wishlists addressed to Santa Claus are being re-directed to Ilulissat. The huge red postbox (postbrevkasse) has been transported into the Arctic Circle and closer to the North Pole.
Father Christmas’s workshop is thought to be up a mountain nearby in Uummannaq, near Ilulissat.
He also has homes in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Alaska. Canada granted him citizenship in 2008 and, when sending their wishlists, correspondents are advised to use the special postcode HOH OHO.
Ilulissat (meaning iceberg) is a Unesco World Heritage site with 1km icebergs and the the world’s fastest moving glacier, Sermeq Kujalleq, which travels at 40m a day.
Greenland is the world’s largest island which isn’t a continent. Nuuk is the world’s most northerly capital and it is where I discovered that I don’t have what it takes to be saint.
I enrolled in the city’s now defunct Academy of Santa Arts and Skills, hoping to become the embodiment of peace on earth and goodwill to all men and to be able to sing Jingle Bells all the way through without rocks being thrown at me.
I was assured that the graduation diploma would be recognised by Styrofoam grottoes around the world.
I was confident. Although my facial hair was rented, I had the formulaic florid face and ruddiness, the smiling eyes and the prerequisite paunch and portliness.
I have always got on well with ruminants and vertically challenged cobblers. I thought being a Santa would be easy.
I was wrong.
“Being Santa is not child’s play,” I was told by Mr Williams, the first and last headmaster of the school. “It’s not an act. It’s a state of mind and way of life.
“Santa is not a bloke who turns up with a sack, says, ‘Ho, ho’, dishes out the pressies and then leaves.
“He is a powerful force for good. He is a caring, sharing all-round nice guy. He’s a very special person capable of very special things.
“He’s a miracle worker. He makes dreams come true.”
The syllabus included a master-class in “Developing Your Polar Image” and a story-telling module. There were lectures on reindeer lore and beard hygiene. I sat an exam in which I had to answer the question, “Why do you want to be Santa Claus?” in no less than 500 words. I answered: “Because I like custard creams and sooty milk.”
As my examiner read the rest of my essay, his lips thinned. Then he forced himself to smile weakly. There was silence. One of those awful, “Don’t text us, we’ll text you” moments. The headmaster of Greenland’s first and last Santa school put a consoling hand on the shoulder of one of its last students.
Christmas is a time of giving and Mr Williams gave it to me straight. His next words were not exactly tidings of comfort and joy.
“Have you ever thought of being an elf?” I still shiver.