You do! If you want to be a great performer, that is.
If you’ve ever gone out to a Renaissance Faire or an American Civil war event and met some of the folks who reenact famous characters (such as Queen Elizabeth, Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Calamity Jane, Sacagawea, or Harriet Tubman) you will notice something immediately about the really good ones.
They own their roles. They know them inside and out. They know who they are, what is going on in their own timelines, and are ready for every question.
How do they do this? They research and read voraciously. They are continually updating, learning, and unlearning old truths that turn out to be wrong. Because history is not static. And they look for knowledge from any quarter, and they love questions that make them stretch their knowledge.
As Christmas Performers, we don’t often think of ourselves as reenactors. Our personas are a lot more magical and undefined than many historical characters, which gives us some creative freedom. But does not excuse us from learning as much as possible about the Christmas holidays and the characters we are creating plus our characters’ motivations. If you want to be as convincing as possible, then the stronger your body of knowledge and the more you’ve mentally walked through your character, the more convincing and real your performance will be. The highest praise you can get is, “oh my goodness, you ARE the Real Santa (or Mrs. Claus or Santa’s Elf)!”
I am a huge folklore and history geek. When I decided to “Santa-up,” I dove into the big river of Christmas lore with a smile. Recently, I’ve had some people ask me to recommend some books, which I am glad to do.
But here are some caveats: First, I am a folklore geek, looking at all of Christmas. So I go pretty far back, and I am multi-cultural. Second, I like weird and obscure, because it makes me think. Finally, I look at resources from many genres, from history to fantasy. Some of these books are not easy reads or necessarily consistently good. But they have interesting bits in them.
And now in no particular order:
Santa True’s Library Recommendations
- The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum, ISBN 0-679-74038-4 – Probably one of the best books on understanding Christmas in America.
- Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men, by Phyllis Siefker, ISBN 978-0-7864-2958-5 – Good for understanding the early roots of the Santa Tradition.
- When Santa was a Shaman, by Tony van Renterghem, ISBN 1-56718-765-X – Kind of all over the place, but the pull out timeline and drawings are cool.
- Americas Favorite Holidays, Candid Histories, by Bruce David Forbes, ISBN 978-0-520-28472-2 – One of the best explanations of how we got to where we are today.
- Merry Christmas by Karal Ann Marling, ISBN 0-674-00679-8 – An odd book, which focuses on the history of Christmas related products. Not an easy read, but interesting.
- Christmas Curiosities (a picture book) by John Grossman, ISBN 978-1-58479-699-2 – The pictures in this book really show you how varied our history is!
- We were marching on Christmas Day, by Kevin Rawlings, ISBN 0-9612670-4-6 – Santa and the Civil war: An eye opening book about the evolution of both.
- Inventing Christmas, how our Holiday came to be, by Jock Elliott, ISBN 0-8109-3493-0 – A little light on the research, but the photos and drawings are amazing.
- Encyclopedia of Christmas & New Year’s Celebrations, by Tanya Gulevich, ISBN 0-7808-0625-5 – This is a great, pick it up, read a bit, put it down book, and a good resource.
- Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari, and Manhattan, by Charles W. Jones. ISBN 0-226-40699-7 – What a slog of a book. But, if you want to know the actual miracles associated with Nicholas and see some of the truly odd turns his legend took, it’s worth tediously chewing through.
- Thomas Nast’s Christmas Drawings (a picture book), Intro by Thomas Nast St. Hill, ISBN 0-486-23660-9 – If you want to see one of the main influences on the Santa Legend, you need this book.
- The Book of Christmas, (from the Enchanted World/Time Life book series) by Brendan Lehane ISBN 0-8094-5261-8 – It has taken me many years to get the whole series together and, as a storyteller, they are one of my most beloved possessions. The Book of Christmas is hard to find in good shape, but beautifully done. Lovely stories and illustrations, not very thick, alas.
That’s enough for now. If you are putting together your own research library, let me recommend three things:
- Warm up that library card. It’s amazing what you can get via lend/loan, and especially the “Friends of Library” used book shops.
- Amazon used books. If you want to feel like Christmas all year round, buy used books, slow boat via Amazon.
- Make certain that you have plans for your library: Dn’t let it end up in a box at a Salvation Army. Make certain all the items you collect go to other people who share your passion for Christmas history and folklore.
Have a wonderful and book-filled year!
aka Santa True or True Thomas the Storyteller
Christmas Performer Workshops