How to Really Be Santa Claus | Ask the Expert

Jonathan Meath has been making personal appearances as Santa for more than a decade, including for Coca-Cola. We asked him to share what it takes.

By Joe Bills

Oct 17 2017


How to Play Santa Claus | Advice From a Santa Expert

Photo Credit : im DeLuco/DeLuco Photography
Jonathan Meath has spent most of his career delighting kids, both as a children’s TV producer (Zoom, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?) and, here, as the man in the big red suit.
Jonathan Meath has spent most of his career delighting kids, both as a children’s TV producer (Zoom, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?) and, here, as the man in the big red suit.
Photo Credit : Jim DeLuco/DeLuco Photography

Jonathan Meath has been making personal appearances on behalf of Santa Claus for more than a decade. Last year, the 62-year-old New Hampshire native landed one of the highest-profile Santa gigs in the world when Coca-Cola selected him for its international ad campaign. Though Meath now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he recently stopped by Yankee’s offices, just before filming began for this season’s Coke ads, to talk about how to channel the famous jolly old elf.


It Doesn’t Matter How It Starts

Nobody volunteers to play Santa, Meath jokes. “People get drafted. Nine times out of 10, they are dragged, kicking and screaming. But once they do it, they have that transformational moment.” For Meath, a heavyset guy whose hair and beard turned prematurely white, portraying Santa seemed almost inevitable. Early on, he even had a vision of himself in full Santa suit, leading a big band. “I thought it might be a hook that people would respond to,” he says. “Turns out there wasn’t a lot of call for Santa singing songs, but it led me in.” (He did record a CD of holiday tunes, however, called Santa JG Swings!)

Don’t Skimp on the Details

“My advice to anyone who wants to be a Santa is simple: Get a gig, buy a suit, and make it yours,” Meath says. “There are plenty of good-quality suits available. But if you’re going to do it, put your heart into it. Get real boots and a real belt. Without those, you’ll feel like you are faking it. It’s a uniform, not a costume. It’s a business suit.”

Be Prepared to Feel the Love

At first, Meath says, it was the message that grabbed him. Santa is a male role model who is about peace and love, and expressing love and affection is uncomfortable for many men at first. “Until you do it, you don’t know what it’s like,” he says. “Once you do it, you want more. When you see it reflected in the eyes of children, you never want to give it up.”

Work on Your Laugh(s)

It’s important to get the “HO-HO-HO!” right. It should be hearty and deep. But Meath acknowledges that Santa’s famous big laugh can be off-putting to some children. “Some kids are too shy or nervous for that. But a restrained little chuckle brings them right in.”

It’s Never About the Photo Op

“As Santa, you are there to bring joy to the children,” Meath says. “You aren’t there for the picture. The picture is a document. The experience is what it’s about.”

There Are No Bad Kids

It’s common for kids to be scared of Santa—after all, he knows if you’ve been naughty. “Santa is a giver, not a denier,” Meath maintains. “All children are good. All are worthy of joy and love.” When a child suggests that Santa isn’t real, Meath laughs it off with a “that’s so silly, of course I’m real” chuckle. (Kids, by the way, aren’t the beard pullers. “It’s the grown women who think that’s funny,” Meath says. “And you know what? The beard is real. It hurts.”)

Embrace the Responsibility

As Santa, Meath says, you are the protector of a legacy. Once you accept that, “it doesn’t weigh on you, it flows. Santa, if you allow him, embodies you. You don’t become Santa; he becomes you. When you embrace that inclusive, humanistic, giving spirit of an elf who loves mankind, especially children, in all colors, shapes, and forms, it just flows. We all know, in our hearts, how to be a great Santa.”