Becoming Santa: from retiree to red suit
When Jeff Badyk of Chestermere, Alberta started to turn grey in his late 40s, he noticed that people started calling him Santa.
Random strangers would stop him on the street and ask him if he would play Jolly Old Saint Nick at their staff Christmas parties.
After he retired from his job in the oil and gas industry, Badyk let his hair and beard grow longer. But he didn't realize just how much he resembled Mr. Claus until one fateful summer afternoon.
"My son and I were out picking Saskatoon berries. These two trucks slowed down. The windows opened up and they were filled with kids," he recalled.
"The guy yelled out 'look kids, I found Santa!', so I went up to the window and asked the kids if they were being nice and kind. It was so much fun."
Signing up for 'Santa School'
After that, Badyk did what he felt like he had to do. He enrolled in Calgary's Santa School, run by Jennifer Andrews.
Andrews has been training Santas from around the world for the past decade.
"Santa can't be everywhere all of the time. So he's asked me to train his best regional representatives," said Andrews.
Santa School enlists acting coaches, drama teachers, improv instructors and make up artists. Badyk learned how to talk to kids, how to communicate with frightened children, even how to deal with parents.
He also got himself a proper Santa suit from a costume store in Toronto.
And to practice, he showed up at his local autobody shop. He wore his suit to witness their expression, wanting to know whether he was convincing or not. He was.
Most mall Santas are booked two to three years in advance. So for his first year, Santa Jeff took on some smaller, local events.
His first big break was at a Canadian Tire in Strathmore Alberta earlier this December.
Badyk says that his favourite thing about being a mall Santa is when he sees how strongly the kids believe in him.
"It's a treat doing this," he said, adding, "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!"