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Dos and don’ts for Santa substitutes

With the real Santa spending most of the holidays out on the road, it’s common for Finnish parents of expectant tots to hire enterprising look-alikes to play the part of the beloved pink-cheeked purveyor of good cheer, Santa.

joulupukki katsoo matkapuhelinta
A Santa surrogate prepares for his round of visits. Image: Juha Korhonen / Yle

With more than 50 years of Santa experience tucked below his wide black belt and shocking red tunic, surrogate Santa Raimo provides first timers with a few tips on how to create a memorable Christmas for those who’ve been nice -- and even a tiny bit naughty.

In Finnish households with young children, Santa is the most eagerly anticipated guest on Christmas Eve. And not just any old Santa will do when the big day arrives.

Yle spoke with a veteran Santa substitute who offered a few treasures of North Pole etiquette from his own bag of goodies.

Santa always knocks first

Even if the front door is wide open, a well-trained Santa doesn’t just walk right in, Santa Raimo says. Always knock or ring the doorbell first. A designated family member is usually keen to guide Santa to an appropriately central location to meet the entire family.

Chatting with Santa is a high point of the visit for most of the family’s young ones, and even the adults expect Santa to share a few words with them. A good representative of the Santa fraternity remembers to pay attention to all family members present.

“You can talk to the children about personal things. It’s good to reminisce on events that took place during the year. We should praise the good things and encourage them to do things differently if we mention bad things,” Raimo pointed out.

Singing and sitting on Santa’s lap optional

In many homes it’s common practice for the children to sit on Santa’s lap for a once-a-year photo opportunity. If some tots are intimidated by Santa’s ample midsection and enormous beard, there’s no point forcing them onto Santa’s knees.

“On many occasions parents have wanted their children to sit on Santa’s lap, but the children don’t want to. I have run into situations where children are so afraid they begin to cry. In these cases you should never force the child into your lap,” Santa Raimo warned.

If songs and games are on the family agenda, they should always take place before presents are distributed. Once the gifts have been handed out, singing and playing are forgotten because the gifts take up all the kids’ attention.

Santas should always pay attention to how children behave when they receive their gifts – ensure that the child says “Thank you,” before relinquishing the present, Raimo observed.

Always on time and always sober

One of the most common mistakes that stand-in Santas make is to be late. Raimo stressed that a good Santa always keeps his appointments and never shows up under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

“When you show up drunk, you have a lot to make up for.  I doubt those types have much work anymore. In general Santas perform in exemplary fashion,” Raimo added.

For his parting advice, Raimo called on his fellow Santa surrogates to always be cheerful and positive. After all, ‘tis the season.

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