SAN DIMAS, Calif. - Do you believe in Santa Claus? Stop reading. To read further is to uncover the shocking truth of steel-toed boots and snow-white hair dye, rub-on rouge and grown men who sleep in hair curlers.
It is to know the difference between a ‘‘naturally endowed’’ or ‘‘strap-on’’ Santa. (We’re talking bellies here.)
It is to be able to spot a soggy diaper from 50 feet — and understand the peril it poses to Santa’s velvet-clad knees.
Old St. Nick may be a jolly fellow, with rosy cheeks and a magical ability to squeeze down chimneys, but he’s still a man at the end of the day, with a man’s pressing concerns: Makeup. Hairdo. How to get soot out of fur-trimmed cuffs.
Such trade secrets are part and Christmas parcel of being a professional Santa, something that half a dozen Orange County, Calif., men discovered at a workshop designed to instruct aspiring Kriss Kringles in the art — and artifice — of all things Claus.
The workshop leader is Tim Connaghan, 57, one of the nation’s leading Santa Claus impersonators. The Hollywood parade, television commercials and even Dr. Phil have all featured his beaming face, custom-made red velvet get-up and authentic, frosty-white whiskers.
‘‘There are a lot of people who think they can become Santa just by being a big guy and having a white beard,’’ Connaghan tells his rapt audience.
‘‘It takes more than just that. Part of it is in the heart.’’
Part of it is also in the marketing.
In his seminar and booklet — ‘‘Behind the Red Suit’’ — Connaghan walks his students through the surprisingly strenuous world of professional Santadom.
Want to prevent your toes from being squashed by eager, stampeding little feet? Invest in a pair of steel-toed Santa boots.
Eager to protect othe sensitive parts from squirmy elbows and knees? Professional hockey players wear a cup — Santa should, too.
Prepare yourself as well for a significant cash investment. Today’s custom-made Santa costumes are trimmed with real fur and can cost up to $1,500. (Connaghan recommends buying two — one to wear while the other is at the dry cleaners.)
His seminar is one of a number offered to wannabe Santas across the country by companies such as the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Naturally Santa and the Midland, Mich.-based Charles W. Howard Santa School.
Santa’s reputation — not just his ability to shake like a bowl full of jelly — is at stake in such trainings.
Connaghan recommends all his students get a criminal background check to reassure nervous parents and employers.
Also recommended is liability insurance, such as the $3 million Clowns of America policy Connaghan carries.
Other safety tips: Santa’s white-gloved hands should be visible at all times in photographs, children should be handled by parents or helpers, and Santa’s red posterior should stay seated at parties unless otherwise instructed by his host or employer.
Santa must also deflate expectations about what he can — and cannot — bring down the chimney.
‘‘You never make promises (to children),’’ Connaghan advises his students. ‘‘A lot of kids ask for a pet, which the parent might not want. So I tell them, ‘Usually, they’re not potty-trained — it might end up being a bit uncomfortable in the sleigh.’ That usually works.’’
Listening attentively is ‘‘Santa’’ Patrick Barnes. A loadmaster for America West Airlines and holiday-season Santa for his local mall, Barnes maintains his long white ringlets by sleeping in pink sponge hair curlers.
His path to the North Pole was initially rocky. The first child ever to sit in his lap shrieked. ‘‘I looked at (my girlfriend) and said: ‘Did I do the right thing?’ ’’ Barnes recalls. Seven years later, he has the answer. Being Santa "does something to your heart and soul,’’ Barnes says. ‘‘The smiles from the kids — it’s just amazing.’’ Shhh. That’s the real trade secret.