By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — When Brian Butler recently strolled into a restaurant dressed as jovial Santa Claus, a child seated at a table could not contain his excitement. “Santa! Santa! Santa!’ he cried, gleefully jumping up and down in his seat.
“They don’t see color, they just see Santa,” said Butler, also better known as Soulful Santa who is one of the few professional African-American Santas working in the country.
“I enjoy bringing joy to the children during the Christmas holidays,” Butler said, adding that whenever he appears in his red Santa suit, the surprise and jubilation he witnesses in the eyes of the children is heartwarming.
Soulful Santa is a member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas and has completed training at International University of Santa Claus, better known as the School4Santas where he obtained his bachelor of Santa Claus degree.
“I have also received advanced training in a class called ‘Making the Moment,’ where I learned how to keep the kids entertained and to make the season ‘magical’ by talking about their Christmas dreams,” he said.
Butler said that when COVID started to devastate the country, he thought for certain that the virus would torpedo his business.
“I really didn’t know what was going to happen as far as booking appointments,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be seeing anybody in person so I started doing facetime calls and then I found Zuhoo, a company in Atlanta that specializes in virtual visits. That saved me,” he said.
Through Zuhoo, Butler books virtual meetings and in-store personal appearances and finds that parents are eager for him to chat with their children. He said that companies, private parties and families from across the country have been reaching out to him to appear virtually or in person.
“Everyone follows the strictest guidelines for safety,” he said. “For in-person events, I make sure to wear a mask and reassure the clients that I have been vaccinated.”
“I became interested in becoming Santa about five years ago,” said the 68-year-old Butler. “A friend of mine wanted me to play Santa for her reading club and I agreed. Once I saw the joy in the children’s faces, I said, ‘I like doing this.This is something that I know I can do.’”
Butler then surfed the internet and found the School for Santas in Phoenix, where he enrolled and was taught proper Santa protocol.
“There’s lots of things you have to learn as Santa,” said Butler, who has a website at www.soulfulsanta.net. “The proper protocol is that you have to always be jolly and nice and you have to always portray a positive image with parents and kids because the kids are your clients. You have to make them feel happy because Christmas should be a magical time of year for both the children and parents.”
The cheery Santa recently made an appearance at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills.
“I was in the valet section where I greeted the customers coming in and out of the store,” he said. “They were offered a photo opportunity to take a picture with me dressed as Santa and I let them know that the store had complimentary cookies, hot chocolate and eggnog inside.
“At the end of the day, I walked through all four floors and greeted customers while they were shopping. They said they were happy to see me there,” he said.
Butler also recently cheered up kids at the Boys and Girls Club in Hollywood with actress Kiki Palmer and later attended an Old Navy store in downtown San Francisco. “We flew up there to make a video with different Santas called ‘Santa’s Boot Camp.’ It demonstrates how to be a good Santa. Afterwards, I took photos with the customers.”
On Dec. 10, Butler appeared at Crown and Conquer that handed out toys and presents to six needy families. “The children were so happy to receive gifts. I like the idea that they adopted six families that would appreciate the presents,” he said.
Asked what questions he is asked by some of the children he meets, he said, “Sometimes they ask for an animal like a dog or a cat. I tell them that Santa’s specialties are toys and I try to get off that subject as fast as I can. They also ask questions about friends or relatives that have passed on or if I can reunite parents that have split up.”
Butler said that the advice he gives to children about being good the rest of the year is simple: “I tell them to continue to be good and to keep helping their parents, to make sure to eat their vegetables and to keep doing those positive things that will keep them on Santa’s nice list,” he said.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.