“Christmas in July” is usually associated with Southern Hemisphere commemorations or department store blowout sales, but for a group of dedicated Santa impersonators, one of the hottest months of the year also marks an important celebration. Discover Santa is the self-purported largest Santa convention in the world, and it doesn’t take place in the North Pole, but in the steamy summer climate of Branson, Missouri.

Mary Meehan traveled to this year’s convention (which took place from July 6 to July 10) along with photographer Dina Litovsky, and together they documented the experience for National Geographic. Meehan’s brother Pat was one of the many Santas who journeyed to the middle of the country to congregate, have some jolly fun, and build up their St. Nick skills. Meehan writes:

"The average age of a Mr. Claus at Discover Santa 2016 is 62.5. Billed as the World’s Largest Santa Convention, the five-day celebration and trade show has drawn 750 Santa Claus impersonators from all over the United States to Branson, Missouri, a town in the Ozark Mountains that’s essentially like Las Vegas but with country music in place of gambling. Here, between the stifling humidity of southern Missouri and the air-conditioning of hotels, the Santas meet with vendors to talk about makeup, beard care, marketing, websites, and North Pole workshop sets—anything that can make them the best Santas possible. Because the life of a professional Santa isn’t easy … and it doesn’t come cheap."

Over the course of the five days, participants engage in tug-of-war competitions, footraces, a “Parade of Red Suits,” and a steamboat cruise, among other things. But it isn’t all fun and games. The convention is a place for professional Santas to scope high-end gear, explore business possibilities, network, and improve their craft with workshops ranging from "Santa Ethics 101” to "Marketing Your Santa Services.”

To read and see more, head on over to National Geographic.

© Dina Litovsky / National Geographic


© Dina Litovsky / National Geographic


© Dina Litovsky / National Geographic


© Dina Litovsky / National Geographic

© Dina Litovsky / National Geographic


© Dina Litovsky / National Geographic

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