December 19, 1977 12:00 PM

‘Santa doesn’t drink,’ Stan Solomon warns. ‘Anything on your breath will be offensive to a child’

One of the first things Stan Solomon tells his students is that “Ho, ho, ho” is out. Today’s TV generation thinks that’s the laugh of the Jolly Green Giant.

Solomon, 40, trains Santa Clauses for Manpower Inc., the temporary help company. Since November he has flown across the U.S. twice, giving an intensive one-day course to 300 Santas for 100 department stores and shopping malls in eight cities.

“When you’re on the job,” Solomon sums up his philosophy, “you’re not playing Santa Claus, you are Santa Claus.”

But be careful, he adds—especially of kids who look upon Santa as a big stuffed toy. “They think it’s all right to poke their finger in your eye,” Solomon warns his trainees. “Keep your cool. Santa doesn’t get angry. Then there’s beard grabbing—about every other child. Guaranteed. The littler, the faster.” Santas should also expect gum and candy canes in their fire-resistant nylon whiskers.

The lap is another vulnerable area. Some kids aren’t toilet trained, and the excitement overwhelms them. Santa should also be careful not to injure his back (or her back, since 15 percent of the trainees are women). “If you bend down and lift every child onto your lap,” Solomon counsels, “I don’t think you’ll be at work tomorrow.” Instead, he suggests extending a leg and having the child lean against it.

Solomon has written a Santa Training Manual which contains strict guidelines. Santa should not smoke, eat garlic or drink at least three hours before going to work. “The only one with a red nose is Rudolph,” Solomon advises. Since the Santa suit can warm up to 140 degrees inside, the manual diplomatically urges “particular attention to personal hygiene.” There are also suggestions on how to handle every request from “I want a bicycle” (no promises) to “I want a baby brother” (“Talk to your folks”).

“You’re going to hear things that will tear you up,” Solomon predicts. “Children who have lost parents will come up and say, ‘I want you to bring my daddy back.’ Tell them Santa can only bring toys and games.”

Solomon’s Santas range in age from 18 to 80. He has trained Mexican-Americans, Orientals, Indians and blacks. “Half of what a little kid sees is already in his mind,” he believes.

Ironically, Solomon, the father of two, does not observe Christmas because he is Jewish. But as a child in New York he sat on Santa’s knee in Macy’s and has been playing Saint Nick himself for the last 10 years. With reindeer hard to come by, Solomon often arrives by helicopter, as he did early this month to open the holiday season in Mequon, Wis.

Not until the yule log is reduced to glowing embers does Solomon permit himself a breather. Then he gets busy on his spring project—training Easter bunnies.

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