For the past five years, Austin Warner has conducted a "Santa school". 
It covers the history and legend behind St. Nick, procedure and make-up tips, 
before going solo. 

WARNER:  We have to be close to sainthood which is very hard you know, because 
we're only human. And it's very important that we're very cherry, ho ho ho. And 
what you have to understand is: that kid who's been standing in line for maybe 
an hour or two, has only got a minute and a half or two minutes to tell you what 
he wants. And you really only have the first 30 seconds to really create a good impression.

    Warner says television advertising has pushed many kids into 
greedier attitudes, through their requests and letters to Santa.

WARNER: Oh yeah, real long letters. I had one Sunday.. it probably would have taken 
me three and a half hours to read.

    Gone are the questions about the reindeer and Mrs. Clause, replaced these days 
with toy manufacturer names and catalog pages to make sure Santa gets it right. 
Although Christmas has been overtaken by computers, the doll and bike requests 
still rank right up there. And Austin sees evidence of a return to the true 
values of the holidays.

WARNER: What's happening is now I can see a lot the parents are telling them, 
hey, ask for just a couple of things.. Santa is basically a symbol of Christmas, 
but not the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning is Jesus' birthday. And 
you know, when you go out and buy all of those gifts, then the younger ones go 
into the cupboard and pick up the pots and pans and play with them instead. And 
then, you're totally devastated. And so is your wallet, ho ho ho.

    Warner believes his Santa's may be better prepared and more believable than 
those just winging it, which can be critical when dealing with a child's faith 
in make believe. Warner's experience tells him who is ready for the big time.

WARNER: Everybody gets nervous when they first do it. But one thing  you have to 
keep in mind: the child is just as nervous as you are. And that child doesn't know 
if you're doing it right or not. As long as you do it with great spirit and warmth 
and sincerity, you're a hero. And you gotta enjoy it. These guys are playing Santa 
because they want to, not because they have to.

    Some of the drawbacks of the job are the mental fatigue and the pressure to 
be happy and stay in character for the entire shift… to never let down from 
that constant cheerful output.

WARNER: To be on top. Because if you're not, there might be that one kid who might 
try to snatch your beard off. They won't come off, ho ho ho. Your face will be torn 
off before the beard will. But it's very, very important that you're constantly 
thinking of it.

    The joy of the job is of course, the kids.

WARNER: So I said, "I heard you've been fighting with your brother." And he says: 
"Oh yes," but he says "When I hit him, I only hit him very softly!" So, now that was 
like a politician. I thought that was pretty good.

    It's a magical trip, playing Santa, says Warner- but also a humbling experience.

WARNER: Then you have the kids asking my "grandma back" or "grandpa back", or "I'd 
like my eyesight back."  Many kids coming up are handicapped,  
and you get a good knowledge that, you know, I don't have it so bad. 
It's a great awareness.

    Santa Clause, Austin Warner. Bill Flynn, WXXI 1370.

WARNER: (on the job) Merry Christmas to all, and may god bless you all, ho ho ho!… 
And to all a good night! Ho, ho, ho! Make sure you leave me cookies and milk…