Santa BOOTcamp: A peek inside a virtual Santa training just in time for the holidays

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COLORADO SPRINGS – FOX21 News’s digital web producer Dani Birzer attended Old Navy’s virtual “Santa BOOTcamp: A Santa School for All” to find out what skills and traits are needed to bring holiday cheer to families everywhere as a “Santa ambassador”.

Less than 5% of all professional Santas working in the United States identify as a person of color, despite half of all children under the age of 15 in the U.S. identifying as non-white. With statistics like these, Old Navy decided to host a virtual training for “Santa ambassadors” of all ages, genders, nationalities and beyond.

Representation is critical, particularly at the developmental age when children are ready and excited to meet Santa Claus around the holiday season. The Santa BOOTcamp brought together Santas from across the U.S. to have them share tips in order to prepare “Santa Ambassadors in Training” for the ALL-iday season.

Santa Tim Connaghan, also known as the National Santa, led the training session.

“The holiday season is celebrated in many different ways by many different people and that little bit of magic you bring to their lives as a Santa ambassador brings more to their lives than you could ever imagine,” Connaghan said.

Santa Bob Torres reminded trainees that it’s every child’s heart’s desire to be seen. Part of being seen is speaking that child’s language.

The United States has over 41 million individuals over the age of five that speak Spanish. Also, over one million individuals in the U.S. speak using American Sign Language or ASL. Learning just a few Spanish and ASL phrases when communicating with children as a “Santa Ambassador” can transform their experience.

“Children who are deaf and hard of hearing spend a lot of their lives in a hearing world that does not cater to their needs. Think about the joy it would bring to those children to meet Santa and find out he speaks their language,” said Torres.

Gendered phrases used in previous years by some Santa ambassadors such as “Have you been a good little boy/good little girl this year?” were addressed by Santa Dion Sinclair.

“As we now know, you can’t assume anyone’s gender just by looking at them. So when you talk to the kids it’s best that you use gender neutral language,” Sinclair said. “Being misgendered is really hurtful, and Santa loves all children exactly for who they are. It may seem like a small change, but the impact is huge.”

Another opportunity to be inclusive Sinclair highlighted during the training was to switch out phrases like “mom and dad” or “parents” when speaking with children and instead opt to use the term “your family”.

Santa Brian Butler wrapped up the training by sharing accessibility tips for the Santa ambassadors in training.

“Take direction from the person’s parent or guardian. There’s no shame in checking in on what the person is comfortable with in terms of touch, language, and so on. In fact, the parent or guardian will likely be happy you asked,” Butlers said.

While you may not be performing this year as a Santa Ambassador, you can still be an ambassador of joy, peace and love this holiday season to your family, friends and beyond.

Perhaps these tips will help you do just that!

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