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Christmas in January: Santas gather at convention in San Diego

WRITTEN BY: HEIDI NICKLES

A total of 218 Santas, Mrs. Claus’s, elves, and family members from across the United States came on Jan. 29-31st for The Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas (FORBS) workshops, luncheons, and a Santa-oriented vendor faire.

This was FORBS 22nd annual reunion, held this year at the Sheraton Mission Valley.

FORBS is an organization that endeavors to, “promote the positive image of Santa and to serve the community by providing Santa services for as many community service groups and organizations as possible.”

Santa Glen Bailey, who has been a real bearded Santa for 15 years, is this year’s Co-chairman of the reunion with Santa Joe McGrievy. Bailey is the secretary for the San Diego chapter of FORBS, which hosted this year’s reunion. Bailey said that this weekend, the Sheraton, “is the south North Pole.”

Santas and other attendees had the opportunity to go to two workshops with seven options on Saturday. Workshop topics ranged from ‘Keeping Santa Healthy’ to ‘Christmas Magic’. Mrs. Claus, Barbara Nickles, a 1961 alumna of Pasadena College, said that her favorite workshop was ‘Story Telling’, presented by Santa True, “because he talked about putting yourself into the story to bring it to life.”

The president of FORBS, Bob Callahan, has been a Santa since 2002 and said that while being president is mostly about keeping camaraderie among the Santa’s strong, his favorite part is the children.

“Children are the best part of the job,” said Callahan. “Unconditional love of so many kids… I don’t know who else feels that much love,” Callahan said.

This year’s vendor faire included booths selling beard shampoo, Santa coats, Christmas decorations, and more. Mrs. Claus, Elizabeth Minter, has been a participant in FORBS for 12 years, and this is her 3rd year selling Christmas books and rhinestoned Christmas shirts. She’s been a librarian for 25 years and collects Christmas books to sell, through her profession outside of the holiday season.

On Sunday, the Santas gathered for their 3rd annual church service at 8am, led by Santa Earl Nickles. FORBS attendees and several PLNU students came for the worship and message.

“Christian Santas play two Santas,” said Santa Earl. “The fantasy one for young children with magic and going down the chimney. But when they’re older, we turn to the story of St. Nicholas who was a great bishop in the church.”

The Santas worshipped together, singing hymns accompanied by guitar, ukuleles, and a bass fiddle.
Michelle Ahlberg, a family friend of Santa Earl and a PLNU senior Biology major, loved how, “all of the Santa’s had a peanut gallery kind of conversation going on before the worship started and were so goofy.”

“It was a very traditional service,” said Ahlberg, “that brought back a lot of family Christmas memories.”
The weekend ended with a fashion show of Santa suits and the promise of another reunion of the real bearded Santas next year.

About the author

Jordan Ligons

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