"We believe that a professional Santa can bring in all kinds of business and people and children," Valent said. She added, "A good Santa that knows how to handle families and knows how to listen to children. Certainly, it gives you a better perception of the store if you have a nice, professional-looking Santa, if he is educated and knows about the North Pole, knows about elves, knows about everything Santa should know about it."
The education begins on a Wednesday night with an open house at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, and then class begins at 8:30 a.m. and goes through 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It's not all classroom time, though. Valent said there are field trips, train rides and entertainment from professional singers — all in all about 45 hours — crammed into three days.
The school and traffic it brings to Midland every year has also been an economic boost for businesses in the Michigan city.
"When the Santa school's in town, it's great for business. It brings the Santas over, they have lunch with us, people see them, they all enjoy coming in and visiting with them. They're just great for the economics of downtown Midland," said Gus Wojda, manager of Pizza Sam's.
Noerr Programs in Arvada, Colorado, has held a "Santa University" every August for the past eight years as a voluntary four-day training for 75 men, who spokesperson Ruth Rosenquist said, "must have a natural beard, and a big heart."
Beyond its Santa University, Noerr Programs works as an agent-of-sorts for those wishing to employ Santa and his team. Noerr will hire, train and supervise "the cast" as well as bring along the digital photography and point-of-sale equipment to become a retail pop-up shop in malls across America for the season.
For some, it's a lifelong dream to be accepted into a Santa school. For the first time this year, there's a married couple attending the Charles W. Howard Santa School. They're training to be Santa's helpers in the Rochester, New York, area. The wife is from Midland, Michigan, originally and has wanted to attend Santa school for as long as she can remember. The couple worked together for more than 30 years at a dental office, and wanted to continue to work together, this time, as Mr. and Mrs. Claus.