In anticipation for the holiday season, Kylie Cooper sat down with Raymond Beckley, better known as ‘Santa Ray,’ on his journey to becoming a professional, real-bearded Santa, premier Corpus Christi Santa.
KC: Let’s start with your Santa origin story. How did you get into this line of work and officially become Santa Ray?
SR: A few years ago, I was visiting a good family friend; while sitting in his living room, we were discussing his Santa business. After a few minutes he said, “I think you would make a great Santa. Would you like to try on some of my suits?” Not being one to disappoint, I tried on his traditional red suit and hat, big Santa belt and furry leather boots — and I was hooked. Before leaving his house that weekend, I bought my first Santa suit online … and since that weekend, I have never looked back.
KC: What does attending Santa School with the Worldwide Santa Claus Network entail?
SR: Over the past few years, everything has been virtual. Increasing my computer skills to develop in person and a virtual business has been very important. Mentorship is vital; having a group of common professionals asking questions and understanding best practices and lessons learned helps to develop all aspects of a Santa business. You also learn about the history of Santa and the role he has played throughout time. [It entails] learning to appreciate all things needed to help safeguard you and be the “Very Best Santa” you could be.
KC: You’re also a retired Navy veteran with over 30 years of experience. Are there any skillsets you learned while serving that aid in being a professional Santa?
SR: As a retired Master Chief Hospital Corpsman, I learned and developed strong ethics, robust communication skills and business expertise. Traveling around the world allowed me the opportunity to meet people of different cultures and develop both private and professional relationships. Understanding people helps when engaging them … once I see a smile, I know I have accomplished my mission.
KC: How do you typically respond when a child asks if you’re the “real” Santa?
SR: This question is probably the number one question asked. I always ask the child what they mean by “real.” I have them tug on my beard and ask them if my beard is real? I have them touch my finger … I ask if that is real. As a last resort and only if needed, I have a North Pole International Sleigh Driver’s License with my picture. Once I show my license, that usually seals the deal.
KC: From commercials to storytelling events, your services can be booked for just about anything. Is there a certain type of event you love doing the most?
SR: Elementary schools! I have a jolly good time, and the joy of seeing the smiles on all the children’s faces is so moving. Santa gets his energy from seeing the joy on everyone’s faces.
Rapid Fire Q’s
Favorite cookie? Anything round.
Favorite Christmas song? “Here Comes Santa Claus”
Go-to hair care product for your beard? Amish Beard products.
What does holiday cheer mean to you? Friendly gatherings, giving, smiles, sweets and joy.
KC: What is the most rewarding, and most challenging, part of being a professional Santa?
SR: Most rewarding: Promoting joy and happiness! Most challenging: Being Santa for everyone. I’m always saddened when I have someone reach out to see if I am available for an appearance and I have to say no because I have another event scheduled at the same time.
KC: What’s the craziest/most memorable thing a kid has ever asked you?
SR: My previous boss (who is not a kid) once asked for a new M series BMW. I have been asked by children if I would be visiting them this year because last year, I did not show up and they didn’t get any presents. For those children, I carry a special shiny gold coin that says “Believe” on one side and “I made Santa’s nice list” on the other.
KC: How do you spend your time during the off-season?
SR: Santa has many chores to do during the off-season. Mrs. Claus always seems to have a list of things she needs fixed around the house. In the springtime, we always plant a garden and grow fresh vegetables. Believe it or not, Santa loves his veggies!