13 Things to Know About The World’s Oldest Santa School

Al Bello/Getty Images
Al Bello/Getty Images

For those aspiring to portray the character of Santa Claus this season, there are dozens of places where they can study the craft. But one workshop tops each Santa's wishlist: The Charles W. Howard Santa School in Midland, Michigan. Here's a look inside one of the world's most selective—and oldest-operating—Santa schools.

1. It was founded by a true Santa pro.

Charles W. Howard first played Santa Claus in a school play when he was in fourth grade. It was a role he never shook: He would go on to appear as Saint Nicholas at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade for nearly two decades, between 1948 and 1965, and worked as a “Santa consultant” for the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street.

2. The school had humble origins.


Santas take notes inside the "Santa House" in Midland, Michigan.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Howard loved the spirit of Santa Claus and wanted other Santas working in the country’s department stores to do Kris Kringle proud. “There was a need for better Santas,” Tom Valent, the current Dean of the school, told National Geographic in 2016. “Some of the Santa characters were apparently pretty rough, smoking and drinking.” The first Santa trainings reportedly took place in Howard’s living room but later moved into retrofitted barns.

3. It's been in continuous operation for 81 years.

Today, the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School is the longest continuously-operating Santa school in the world. (This year’s class marked its 81st year.) Class takes place in Midland, Michigan and is headquartered in a jolly-green “Scandinavian-style” Santa house that, according to CNN, is “complete with the smell of peppermint and the sounds of elves hard at work.” The building was designed and constructed by Valent (who, when he's not Santa, is a civil engineer and contractor) and architect Steve Barstow.

4. It's considered the Harvard of Santa schools.

Each year, about 200 Santas (including a handful of Mrs. Clauses) attend class in Midland—but not everybody who applies gets accepted. Co-Dean Holly Valent rejects Santas who don’t seem interested in children or singing. (In other words, Santas who appear to be in it only for the money.) Additionally, she has to place around 40 prospective Santas on a waiting list each year. Thankfully, the workshop in Midland is not the only Santa school under the North Pole: There are training programs in Alberta, Denver, Atlanta, and other cities.

5. The course schedule is jam-packed.


Santas practice their Ho-Ho-Hos
Al Bello / Getty Images

According to Courtney Reagan and Sabrina Korber at CNBC:

“The education begins on a Wednesday night with an open house at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, and then class begins at 8:30 a.m. and goes through 9 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It’s not all classroom time, though. Valent said there are field trips, train rides and entertainment from professional singers—all in all about 45 hours—crammed into three days.”

6. Child psychology is the name of the game.

The most important aspect of being a good Santa is learning how to genuinely listen to all kinds of children. "[Y]ou have to be on your toes all the time, because you never know what the children are going to ask you," Mary Ida Doan, who plays Mrs. Claus, told WJRT. (Doan would know: She’s a member of the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.) During the workshop, the Santas get schooled in child psychology and learn handy tricks from experts and each other: How to deal with squirmy children, crying children, children who are afraid of you, and more. The Santas even learn basic sign language. “It's important to be able to spread Christmas cheer to all children," a Santa named Bill told Reuters.

7. Gaining background knowledge means meeting real reindeer.

Since kids are apt to ask Santa anything, it’s best that Santa draws his answers from real experience. What are the reindeer like? To find out, Santa students study reindeer habits and get to meet real reindeer. How are toys made? The Santas spend quality time learning how to make wooden playthings. The Santas also attend lectures about St. Nick’s backstory and the North Pole. “Know who you are,” Valent tells an assembly of Santas, according to CNN. “Know your legend. Know where you came from.”

8. There are field trips!


Santas take notes on the latest toy crazes
Al Bello/Getty Images

Part of Santa’s background research involves getting out of the classroom. To study up on the latest gadgets, the Santas take field trips to local toy stores. And to get a feel for what it’s like to ride the Polar Express (they get asked about it more than you think) all of the Santas are bused to the Huckleberry Railroad and ride in a steam locomotive that’s piping Christmas music.

9. They have to practice their “Ho-Ho-Hos” and their “Do-Re-Mis.”

Since each Santa must prepare for radio and TV interviews, much of Santa school focuses on teaching students how to craft an accurate and authentic persona. “For example, they’re advised to create a backstory for their ‘elves,’ pulling names and characteristics from kids and grandkids in their own circles,” Kathleen Lavey reported for the Lansing State Journal. It also means learning how to deliver a hearty but balanced Ho Ho Ho. “You have to do it mild,” Tom Valent explained. “It’s got to be a laugh.” (And to ensure the Santas are really in the Christmas spirit, they’re also taught how to sing with cheer.)

10. There's more dancing involved than you'd imagine.


Santas practice their dance moves.
Al Bello/Getty Images

It’s not enough to nail the laugh. Being Santa requires you to be a full-body actor—and that means perfecting the big man’s jolly, bouncing swagger. The school is stuffed with movement lessons. “The school fitness teacher had them dance as if they were wrapping presents, baking cookies and filling stockings to classic Christmas tunes,” Christinne Muschi wrote for Reuters. Santas also learn how to properly ease in and out of a sleigh and learn yoga and breathing exercises to keep limber. (It’s important work: Hoisting kids up and down from your lap for hours takes its toll.) As Tom Valent told CNN, “Santa is a healthy outdoorsman.”

11. They receive financial tips.

At Santa school—which costs $525 for new students—they teach classes on marketing, accounting, and taxes. That's because being a freelance Santa is not cheap. A Santa with a bare chin is advised to buy a custom beard and wig that can cost up to $1800. And while a generic suit costs about $500, a personalized one can run over $2000. Add to that $700 for a pair of authentic boots. And then grooming expenses. Oh, and makeup.

12. Santas get lessons in grooming.


A Santa receives grooming tips.
Al Bello/Getty Images

At school, Santas also learn how to curl their mustaches and groom their hair and beards (or wigs) to create a windblown I-just-got-out-of-the-sleigh look. They receive lessons in bleaching their hair to get a snow-white glisten as well as lessons in applying makeup. According to Lavey, teachers show “other Santas how to take the shine off their foreheads with powder, pink up their cheeks with rouge and add startdust to their beards with hairspray that contains glitter.” The big secret to making Santa’s beard smell magical? Peppermint oil.

13. It's probably the world's most heartwarming place.

And that’s not just because cookies seem to always be within reach. It’s estimated than 5000 Santas have come through the workshop since 1986. Many of them return because they love the camaraderie they feel there. “The spirit of giving, the spirit of loving one another and being kind to each other,” a Santa veteran named Joe told WJRT. "The golden rule, it still stands and that's what we try to instill in Santas." As the founder Charles W. Howard once said, “He errs who thinks Santa enters through the chimney. Santa enters through the heart.”

23 Notoriously Unrhymable Words (That Actually Have Rhymes)

iStock.com/MeXaHuK
iStock.com/MeXaHuK

You’ll no doubt have heard the old fact that nothing rhymes with orange. But in fact, the English surname Gorringe—as in Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, captain of the USS Gettysburg—rhymes with orange. And so does Blorenge, the name of a hill in south Wales. But even if proper nouns like surnames and place names are excluded, that still leaves sporange, an obscure name for the sporangium, which is the part of a plant that produces its spores. So although it might all depend on your accent, on how obscure a word you’re willing to accept, and on precisely where the stress falls in the word (because sporange can either rhyme with orange or be pronounced “spuh-ranj”), it seems there actually is a rhyme for orange.

In fact, despite often finding their way onto lists of notoriously unrhymable words, all of the words listed here do have rhymes in English—just so long as bizarre dialect words and obscure scientific jargon are allowed.

1. Acrid rhymes with epacrid (in some pronunciations), a name for any plant of the genus Epacris, most of which are found in Australia.

2. Angst partially rhymes with both phalanxed, meaning “arranged in rows,” and thanksed, an old word meaning “given thanks to.”

3. Beige is pronounced so that it sounds more like the first syllable of Asia than it does similarly spelled words like age, gauge, stage, and rage. But that doesn’t mean it’s devoid of a rhyme; there’s also greige, the name for the dull color of undyed fabric.

4. Bulb rhymes with culb, an obscure 17th century word for a retort or a barbed reply.

5. Chaos rhymes with naos, a name for the innermost part of a Greek temple, and speos, an Egyptian tomb built into a cave.

6. Circle rhymes with hurkle, an old dialect word meaning “to pull your arms and legs in towards your body,” as well as both heterocercal and homocercal, two zoological terms describing the tails of fish that are either asymmetrical or symmetrical, respectively.

7. Circus has a homophone, cercus, which is the name of a bodily appendage found on certain insects, and so rhymes with cysticercus, another name for a tapeworm larva. If that’s too obscure, why not try rhyming it with murcous—a 17th century word meaning “lacking a thumb.”

8. Concierge is a direct borrowing from French, so the number of English words it can rhyme with is already limited. But there is demi-vierge, another French loanword used as an old-fashioned name for a unchaste young woman—or, as Merriam-Webster explains, “a girl … who engages in lewd or suggestive speech and usually promiscuous petting but retains her virginity.” It literally means “half-virgin.”

9. Dunce rhymes with punce, a dialect word for flattened, pounded meat, or for a sudden hard kick, among other definitions.

10. False rhymes with valse, which is an alternative name for a waltz, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

11. Film rhymes with pilm, an old southern English word for dust or fine powder.

12. Filth rhymes with both spilth, which is the quantity lost when a drink is spilled (or the spilling itself), and tilth, meaning hard work or labor.

13. Gouge rhymes with scrouge, which means “to crowd or crush together.” In 19th century college slang, a scrouge was also a long, dull, or arduous lesson or piece of work.

14. Gulf rhymes with both sulf, which is another name for toadflax plants, and culf, an old southwest English word for the loose feathers that come out of pillows and cushions.

15. Music rhymes with both ageusic and dysgeusia, both of which are medical words describing a total lack of or minor malfunction in a person’s sense of taste, respectively.

16. Purple rhymes with hirple, meaning “to limp” or “walk awkwardly,” and curple, an old Scots word for a leather strap that goes beneath the tail of a horse to secure its saddle (it also more broadly means "buttocks").

17. Replenish rhymes with both displenish, which means “to remove furniture,” and Rhenish, meaning “relating to the river Rhine.”

18. Rhythm rhymes with the English place name Lytham as well as smitham, an old word for fine malt dust or powdered lead ore.

19. Silver, after purple and orange, is the third of three English colors supposedly without rhymes. But there is chilver, an old dialect word for a ewe lamb.

20. Wasp rhymes with both cosp, a hasp for fastening a door or gate, and knosp, an architectural ornament resembling the bud of a tree.

21. Width rhymes with sidth, an English dialect word variously used for the length, depth, or breadth of something—or literally the length of one side.

22. Window rhymes with tamarindo, a Spanish-American drink made of boiled and sweetened tamarind fruit.

23. Women rhymes with both timon, an old word for the rudder of a ship, and dimmen, meaning “to grow dim” or “to set like the sun.” Woman, however, has no rhyme at all. (Apparently.)

A version of this list first ran in 2015.

12 Surprising Facts About Emilia Clarke

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

Game of Thrones fans know every title claimed by Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen: First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. But there's probably a lot you don't know about the actress who plays her. Emilia Clarke has had almost as fascinating a life as the character that made her famous. Here are just a few surprising facts about the 32-year-old London native.

1. She has wanted to be an actor since she was a toddler.

Show business is in Emilia Clarke's blood. When she was just 3 years old, she attended a performance of Showboat, which her father—a theater sound engineer—was working on. "We sat her in the front row in house seats—Showboat at the London Palladium," Emilia's mom, Jenny, said. "She sat on my lap the whole way through, transfixed by the whole thing." It was then that she decided she wanted to become an actor.

2. Her father gave her some straight talk about becoming an actor.

When Clarke expressed a desire to take to the stage, her father made sure she understood what she was up against. "He wanted me to be very realistic about the whole thing, about how nobody makes any money," she told Esquire in 2015. "The only line you'll ever need to learn, he told me, is 'Do you want fries with that?'"

3. She played a classic Audrey Hepburn character on Broadway.

Emilia Clarke and Cory Michael Smith and Vito Vincent the cat take part in the 'Breakfast At Tiffany's' Broadway Opening Night at Cort Theatre on March 20, 2013 in New York City
Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

In 2013, Clarke made her Broadway debut as Holly Golightly in a staged version of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Despite Clarke's acting skills, the play received poor reviews and suffered from low ticket sales; it closed after just one month.

4. She is the second person to play Daenerys Targaryen.

In the original unaired pilot of Game of Thrones, Dany was played by Tamzin Merchant. Though it's never been seen, the script recently resurfaced and seemed to confirm that it was rather problematic. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ended up reshooting about 90 percent of the pilot to create "Winter is Coming," the series' first official episode. Those reshoots included, for a still-undisclosed reason, the recasting of Daenerys Targaryen. Clarke has since earned three Emmy Award nominations (and counting) for the role.

5. All of that nudity in Game of Thrones wasn't easy for Clarke.

Though Daenerys Targaryen turned out to be a career-changing role for Clarke, she admitted that it wasn't always easy. Between all of the nudity required of her character, and an infamous rape scene, Clarke's early days on the series could be trying. "Once, I had to take a little time out," she told Esquire of filming the first season. "I said I needed a cup of tea, had a bit of a cry, and was ready for the next scene."

6. She is the second Game of Thrones actress to play Sarah Connor.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Emilia Clarke in Terminator Genisys (2015)
Melinda Sue Gordon, Paramount Pictures

Clarke starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys, playing the role of Sarah Connor. The part was previously played by Cersei Lannister herself, Lena Headey, in the short-lived TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Schwarzenegger was impressed with how well Clarke followed in the footsteps of Linda Hamilton, the original Sarah Connor. Ultimately, however, the movie flopped—which didn't bother Clarke at all. In an interview with Vanity Fair, she admitted that she was "relieved" that the movie was a failure, as it meant she didn't have to return for any sequels.

7. She idolized Arnold Schwarzenegger growing up.

After being forced to watch the first two Terminator movies by her brother as a child, Clarke became a huge fan of the series and of Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. To prepare for her role in Game of Thrones, she told the Irish Examiner that she actually "watched Sarah Connor back, in order to kind of embody some other strong women on screen. So it was funny when this audition [for Terminator Genisys] came around. I was like, ‘Yes, definitely!'" She admitted that she geeked out a bit when filming on Terminator Genisys began, and that she would drop Schwarzenegger's famous "I'll be back" line nonstop. "To his face, not to his face, all of it," Clarke said.

As for her co-star, Clarke commended Schwarzenegger's "calming, gorgeous presence on set that put everyone at ease. And he’s such an iconic figure—there were a lot of ‘pinch me’ moments, when you’re like, ‘I can’t believe I’m actually doing this.'"

8. She's got some serious musical talent.

Clarke is an exceptionally talented musician. With her alto voice, she can expertly sing ballads, blues, cabaret, and jazz numbers. She can also play the piano, flute, and guitar. 

9. Fans often don't recognize her in public.

Emilia Clarke attends the European Premiere of 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' at Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2018 in Cannes, France
Antony Jones, Getty Images for Disney

If you only know Clarke from Game of Thrones, you could be forgiven for thinking she has long, platinum blonde hair in real life. That was just a wig until she dyed her hair blonde in September 2017. Her natural color is much darker, and as a result, she's confessed she still isn't recognized much in the outside world when her hair is brown.

"I don't get recognized, truly," the actress told Conan O'Brien. "I'll be walking with Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, or Gwen [Christie], who plays Brienne of Tarth, and people will be like, ‘Can you take this picture for us?’ And I'm like, ‘Sure! Definitely I can!'"

10. She worked anywhere from three to six jobs at once before being cast.

Actors have to do a lot to make ends meet before their big break. Before landing her role on Game of Thrones, Clarke worked as a server, a bartender, a call center agent, and a licensed real estate agent.

11. She had other jobs in mind.

Everyone tells actors to have a backup plan and Clarke was no different. If acting hadn't worked out, she thinks she would have been a singer, an architect, or a graphic designer. 

12. She was bullied for her eyebrows as a child.

They may be one of her defining features now, but wasn't always a fan of her eyebrows—especially as she was teased about them as a kid. Fortunately, her mother knew better. "My mom had rules when I was younger: 'Don't do drugs, don't have sex, and don't touch your eyebrows,' she'd say," Clarke told Cosmopolitan. "And I didn't and I'm so grateful for that advice."

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