Call it providential, but when Paul Carlson started searching the Worldwide Web for a Santa suit seamstress, he found one in his own backyard.
That's pretty remarkable seeing how there are maybe six full-time professional Santa suit makers in the country. Deborah Mumaugh of White Bear Township is one of them.
Mumaugh happens to be married to a Santa, too, and accompanies her husband Gary as Mrs. Claus during his many stops. When children ask her age, Mrs. Claus doesn't hesitate: “325,” she replies.
Both Mumaugh and Carlson make it clear not just anyone can don the costume and become the jolly old elf, even if they do have a little round belly that shakes like jelly.
According to Mumaugh, Santa's large waistline is losing its appeal. "There's a move afloat for Santa to slim down," she said. "It's a health thing." Carlson finds a big belly too restrictive and refuses to wear padding. If a child notices a lack of stomach, he's ready with an explanation. He blames it on Mrs. Claus who put him on a diet and demanded he exercise.
“But there’s much more to Santa than looks,” explained Carlson, who is a relative newcomer to the profession. “The mannerisms, the voice. Everyone is on the same backstory. You have to learn how to walk, how to answer questions, how to carry the bag of toys, how to sit a certain way. Kids are bright. They'll try to trip you up."
Mumaugh jokes that Santa and the Mrs. have to be pathological liars, in a good way. "Kids ask crazy questions. You have to come up with a story and our stories have to match," she said. Youngsters will ask about her sparkly skin (she wears special powder), for example. Mumaugh answers that she is part elf.
Being Santa is serious business. There are conventions, like the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, of which Carlson attends in April. It draws about 4,000 Santas from around the world. There are classes on beard care and reindeer history. Locally there are the North Star Santas, an exclusive group who mentor the wannabees. Members are expected to follow a Christmas-worthy code of conduct.
Wearing the red suit is an honor for Carlson, who has been a professional Santa for two seasons. He has always loved Christmas and decorates his Bald Eagle Lake home with about 70 Santas. In fact, his suit is modeled after one of his Santa dolls.
"I'm helping make God's world a better place," Carlson said. "He (referring to Santa) brings joy to people of all ages. You can touch people's lives in a way no one else can."
Both Carlson and Mumaugh have sad stories about children who tell them they lost their mother to cancer, or a child who has a terminal illness and likely won't see another Christmas. Last week a little girl said she just wants her blind grandpa to see, Mumaugh said. "Santa told her 'I'm just a toymaker, but I will pray for your grandpa.'"
There is a piece of spirituality to the job, Mumaugh maintained. People with a strong faith can deal with sad stories a whole lot easier because they believe the Christmas story, she said. And that's why she embroidered special words inside Carlson's suit that read: Jesus is the reason for the season.