Santa School Trains Would-Be St. Nicks in Beards, Bad Breath and 'Ho Ho Ho'

Charles Howard Santa School is known as the Harvard of Santa schools.

ByABC News
December 6, 2012, 5:09 PM

Dec. 7, 2012— -- On a chilly winter day in Midland, Mich., Fritz Schmidt walked into a hair salon to get his annual extreme makeover -- as Santa Claus. After a few hours of bleaching his hair and beard, Schmidt was a dead ringer for jolly old St. Nick.

"I first started when my daughter was born. She'll be 28 this year," said Schmidt, a 60-year-old semi-retired agricultural salesman.

Schmidt said his transition to Santa was an enjoyable one because he loves children and this is one job where they are your main clients.

"You gotta have a good heart, and you have to believe yourself, because the kids can see through it if you're just there just for the sake of being there," Schmidt told "20/20."

That's just one of the many mantras Schmidt learned at Charles Howard Santa School in Midland.

The Santa School was founded 75 years ago by former Macy's Santa Charles Howard and is the oldest Santa Claus Training Academy in the world, boasting more than 3,000 graduates.

"We have between 90 and 115 Santas attend every year and somewhere between eight to 20 of them are Mrs. Claus," said Holly Valent, who's been running the Santa School for 25 years with her husband, Tom.

The school for mastering the spirit of Father Christmas is so popular that there is a waiting list every fall.

"I tried for five years to get into this school," said Rick Hyman, who's been a Santa since 1972. "This without a doubt is the most exciting time that you'll ever experience in this life of being a Santa Claus."

This Harvard of the Santa Schools, as it has been called, costs more than $400 and spans three days in October. The school offers instruction and fine tuning for returning students.

"They cover everything from bad breath to your beard and how to maintain your hair," said Schmidt. "They teach sign language, too."