Certifying Santa Claus
Westside business trains, places bearded men around the country

       Being Santa Claus is a year-round job for “Santa Joe” Monaco.
       True, the most intense part is the six weeks before Dec. 25, hearing the Christmas wishes of up to 500 children a day at the Citadel Mall. But the rest of the year is plenty active as well. That's when the Westside resident serves as operations manager for Naturally Santa Inc., an 11-year-old business that trains men to be Santa Claus. Multiple Santas with Naturally Santa Inc. pose for a photo
recently. In addition to requiring real beards, the Westside-
based agency gets away from the traditional coat and
gloves. The idea is to present Santa more informally, as he
might look in his workshop, according to operations
manager Santa Joe Monaco. This also makes it easier to get
down on the floor, if need be, to better relate to children, 
he noted.
Courtesy of Naturally Santa Inc.
       This year, Naturally Santa placed 72 Santas in stores or other situations in 29 states, according to Monaco. Customers are guaranteed they will be provided men who look and act like Santa, have a 15-year clean background, don't drink or smoke, and truly enjoy children. And, of course, they must have a full, natural beard.
       One of the side benefits of being part of such an organization is the ability to call other Naturally Santas on the phone and compare notes. This is good because not all kids have happy stories to tell. That's part of the training - learning how to handle it when a child relates the loss of a family member or other personal tragedy. “You're not God,” Monaco said. “You just tell them you love them.”
       But he also has great respect for what Santa means to children. “I've seen miracles sitting in that chair,” he said. “Children walk who haven't walked or talk who haven't talked, and parents will be in tears. There's a spirit in being Santa Claus and I'm fortunate enough to carry it on.”
       If you're a sprightly senior with a full beard and a love of children, there might even be an opening for you. Every year in February, the business holds an audition/test for Santa hopefuls in Las Vegas, Nev., putting the wannabes through stressful situations to see how they do. (Why Las Vegas? Be-cause it's the cheapest place to fly to from anywhere in the country, Monaco explained.) Information can be found at the website: naturallysantainc.com. Applicants are encouraged to get in touch between Christmas and New Year's.
       Another recruitment technique is for someone from Naturally Santa - upon spotting a bearded man with Santa potential - to hand him a card and invite him to an interview.
       Naturally Santa Inc. was started by Billy and Mama Gooch, a Westside couple (who were out of town and could not be reached for this story). Their inspiration, according to Santa Joe, was their getting “tired of perverted, drunken, dirty, fake Santas.”
       The Gooches recruited Monaco, handing him a card about six years ago. A career handyman and equipment operator, he had only acted as Santa once before, when part of his hair was still brown. When a child told him he was too young to be Santa, Monaco recalled explaining that he was “Santa's son.”
       Now, with all-white hair, he's about as involved in Christmas as a man can get. He also has an 1880s sleigh in his front yard and a Christmas tree that he keeps up year-round. But he doesn't get tired of the Santa identification - even when children waylay him off-duty. “There's nothing better than seeing the light in their eyes,” he said. “They can give me a hug and it makes their day.”

Westside Pioneer article