The art of becoming Santa

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What its like to be a professional Santa
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What its like to be a professional Santa
Mrs Claus takes a photo of her husband Santa Bill Armstrong (R), with Santa Fred Osther as they head for class at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas and Mrs. Clauses enjoy lunch at Pizza Sam's on Main Street during a break from class at Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Randy Schneider of Muskegon, Michigan learns wood toy making in the Gerace shop in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Sam Hopeck of Commerce Township, Michigan rides the Polar Express train during a field trip from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Rudolph walks out of Pizza Sam's with fellow Santas on Main Street during a lunch break from class at Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas wave as they leave for lunch between classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Thomas Valent, dean of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School sits in the Santa House in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas laugh as they learn about Santa Spirit during class at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas disembark from a wagon following a tour around the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, Michigan, U.S. October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Jerry Julian of Colorado Springs, Colorado hides in the grass following a ride on the Polar Express during a field trip from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa listens to a reindeer at the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, Michigan, U.S. October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Glenn Johnson of Woodstock, Georgia learns new dance moves during the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Fred Osther from Oslo, Norway waits for the afternoon session of classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
Santa Leon McBryde (L) of Buchanan, Virginia and Santa Stephen Gillham of Chapel Hill, North Carolina pose at the end of classes from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Paul Fanning of Tyler, Texas rides past Christmas decorations during a break in schedule at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
Santas and Mrs Claus greet a child at the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm in Clare, Michigan, U.S. October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Fred Osther from Oslo, Norway shops at a Toys R Us during a field trip from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Five year old Claire tugs the beard of Santa Barry Westmoreland of Germanton, North Carolina as the Santas visit a Toys R Us store, during a field trip from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Jerry Julian of Colorado Springs, Colorado shows some yoga moves outside the Santa House in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Jim Hastings (R) from Durham, North Carolina, is helped into his suit by a fellow Santa prior to a visit from a group of children at the Santa House in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas board a bus for a field trip from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Jack Bradley of Iron Ridge, Wisconsin is fitted for a suit following classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Lamar May of Dallas, Georgia is shown how to groom his beard and moustache during classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Holmes Kimble from Farmer City, Illinois, learns to apply Santa make-up during classes at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santas learn breathing techniques as they attend class at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
Santa Leon McBryde performs at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi 
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MIDLAND, MICHIGAN, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Randy Schneider has considered himself a professional Santa since 1999 when he found himself at a JCPenney store buying a beard and boots.

Now, Schneider, 66, has a beard of his own.

At the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, some two hundred Santas and Mrs. Clauses came from across the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway to learn wood toy-making, brush up on storytelling skills, drive sleighs, feed reindeer and, most importantly, spread the Christmas spirit.

Cookies are readily available at all times during the three-day training course on becoming Santa.

"It's the Harvard of all Santa schools," Schneider, a retired crane operator, said of the school, which was established in 1937 and made a non-profit organization in 1987 by directors Tom and Holly Valent.

"It's a privilege to be Santa," Tom said, sitting in a tall wooden chair with a "SANTA" engraving and green velvet upholstery.

"Every child that comes and sits on Santa's knee remembers that forever so when you're putting an everlasting memory into a child's mind, you want to make sure it's a good one."

Tom and Holly said they had to turn down roughly one hundred Santas because so many people had expressed interest in attending the Santa workshop.

A sea of red cars, many of which had personalized license plates, showed the school was at capacity. A car with a plate from Georgia read "UBGOOD" parked next to a car with a "HOHO" plate from Tennessee. Another, from California, was marked "IMCLAUS."

The organizers also said there was a record number of Mrs. Clauses in 2016.

"What a great place to find a husband!" one Mrs. Claus joked.

Kathy Armstrong had already found her Santa in college when she knit him a Christmas sweater.

The two have been married for 44 years. They both were physical therapists and retired roughly two years ago. That is when they had the idea to attend Santa school.

"Kathy has always collected Santas and I have always had a beard," said Bill.

"We decided it was something we both wanted to do," said Kathy.

The sweater Kathy made for Bill symbolized their love for Christmas.

"It had reindeer on it," Kathy, who also sewed her husband's Santa suit, said with pride.

"And it still fits!" Bill chimed.

Over the three days, the couple struck silly yoga poses, practiced breathing techniques and broke out in song. The school fitness teacher had them dance as if they were wrapping presents, baking cookies and filling stockings to classic Christmas tunes like "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" with the rest of their classmates.

"We even learned sign language," Bill, a loyal member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, said.

"It's important to be able to spread Christmas cheer to all children," he added.

In the make-up room, Santa Leon McBryde, formerly a professional clown, taught other Santa tricks of the trade: how to pincurl their mustaches, how to apply blush to their cheeks to make them the right kind of rosy, how to keep their facial hair groomed the Santa way.

"The toughest part for me is keeping my hair white," Schneider said with a laugh.

One afternoon, some of the Santas suited up, boarded a bus and made their way to the local Toys R Us.

Santa Fred Osther, 80, who traveled from Oslo, Norway to attend this year's training, looked like a Norwegian gnome with his red pointy hat as he shopped around the kids section looking for toys.

A few aisles over, a five-year-old girl, Claire, came up to Santa Barry Westmoreland, tugged lightly on his beard and said: "You really do exist."

(Reporting by Christinne Muschi in Michigan; Additional reporting and writing by Melissa Fares in New York; Editing by Diane Craft)

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