I saw this delectable morsel of an indie film at the Napa Valley Film Festival last month and had a chance to talk with Jeff Myers, the director, for a few moments afterwards. The backstory is fascinating but the movie stands on its own. “Becoming Santa,” reveals a lot more about the human spirit and generosity towards the tiniest among us than any Christmas tale or Christmas carol out there.
‘Becoming Santa’ is the story of Jack Sanderson, whose father has just passed away, leaving him with no family members to celebrate Christmas. He is a forty-four year old bachelor who wonders if he should bother trying to have holiday spirit in Los Angeles with no one to share the holidays with. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, Jack decides to become a Santa and help children celebrate the season that, after all, is meant primarily for children. His parents liked to celebrate Christmas and Jack wants to honor their memory with a quest for a new home for the holidays.
This is when the documentary becomes fascinating. Jack applies to Santa School in Colorado (there are others) and begins his journey as a Santa who works in a department store, rides the Polar Express train, waves at crowds on a float in a Christmas pageant, and even makes “home visits”. In the process, we learn about the history of Santa Claus (St. Nicholas in southern Turkey), the Santa Claus look (red suit, black belt, and white beard) which Coca Cola promoted for their own commercial purposes, and listen to interviews with other Santas across the country.
Becoming Santa is one of the jolliest, most emotional, poignant depictions of Christmas spirit I have seen. What does it mean to be a successful Santa to children? What is the training like? What is the feeling one gets making history in a child’s life–for almost everyone who celebrates Christmas has at least one photo as a child sitting on Santa’s lap?
The camera lingers on Susan Mesco, the owner of the Santa school Jack attends. First lesson–to avoid the “k” word–“kids”–for the much more respectful word, “children”. Those who lapse into saying “kids” have to pay a dime in the “transgression” jar. Jack is charismatic– delightfully and cheerfully interacting with children and putting them at ease with his comforting smile.
When I first heard about this movie at the Napa Valley Film Festival, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be one of those cheesy, saccharine Hollywood movies we have to bear with young children who want a movie during the winter break. I hope that “Becoming Santa” ends up being a holiday classic – whether or not you celebrate Christmas–because this movie is an essential narrative of the human spirit and reconnects us with the spirit of generosity and community we all need, starting with the tiniest among us.
Note: This film does not have a major distributor at the time of this blog post. You can go to the film’s website at www.becomingsantathemovie.com to see the trailer and read a summary of the story; order it from Amazon.com; or, watch for repeat performances next year on OWN (The Oprah Winfrey channel). You can also write the Napa Valley Film Festival and inquire about Jeff Myers’ plans for future distribution.