Make us your home page

300 Santa Clauses coming to town for convention

TAMPA — You better watch out, 300 Santas are coming to town

Tampa hosts its fair share of trade shows but this week will bring hundreds of professional Santas and their helpers to the DoubleTree by Hilton for the area's first International Santa Celebration.

And they won't be hard to spot.

Tampa Santa Bob Elkin, president of the local chapter of the host International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, said in the offseason it's difficult to hide a long white beard, so most dress in red or green T-shirts year-round and wink when kids recognize them in grocery stores.

"We call it 'Santa casual,' " he said of the wardrobe.

You can expect to see herds of Santas as they head out for excursions on the golf course, see the mermaids of Weeki Wachee or ride the roller coasters of Busch Gardens while they are in town for a weekend of seminars, workshops and a trade show. The Columbia restaurant dining room will be thick with St. Nicks Thursday and Friday night during the convention with tables reserved for jolly old elves.

On Thursday, the public is invited to check out the Santa sleigh showcase from noon to 5 p.m. at the hotel, and the Santas want you to bring them a gift: Help them reach their goal of donating 100 pints of blood to the community blood bank.

There will be about 16 sleighs in front of the hotel, ranging from a vintage red Jaguar to an antique sleigh used for professional photographs. Kids can vote for their favorite sleigh, get free photos and autographs, and Elkin, who is the Santa at the Florida Aquarium every holiday season, will bring his cyber sleigh, an LED-decorated ride with hydraulics that simulates the reindeer-fueled trip.

WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley, who is building a second career in standup comedy, will also be there for photos and autographs from noon to 5 p.m. at the hotel, 4500 W Cypress St.

After the blood drive and sleigh showcase, the weekend gets down to the serious business of supporting Santas who are professionally trained, background-checked and insured. They work in malls and corporate parties, visit hospitals and anchor parades.

Elkin, 73, has been on the Santa circuit for 20 years in a hobby that doesn't make too much profit, but is all about "collecting smiles."

According to, a professional Santa can earn $100 to $200 an hour depending on the organization and the Santa's experience. But they only work about 40 days a year, and people paying the high end of the scale expect to see Santa in a quality fuzzy red suit that can cost $400 to $2,000 depending on just how flashy he wants it to be. And most have at least two suits, because with a line of sniffling, diapered tots, it can be a messy business.

There are Santa Claus schools and fraternal and professional organizations, such as the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas' local chapter, called the Palm Tree Santas. There are about 800 members of the national organization, Elkin said.

So how are kids supposed to react to a ballroom full of Santas when they've been told there's only one true Santa Claus flying around the world on Christmas Eve?

"Rumors persist the real Santa will make an appearance," the Palm Tree Santas say, so it will be up to the kids to figure out which one of the hundreds there is the one true St. Nick.

.if you go

Sleigh showcase and blood drive

As part of the Santa Claus convention in town this week, the public is invited Thursday to check out a showcase of the sleighs these Santas from around the country use for photos and parades. Kids can vote for their favorite sleigh, get free photos and autographs. WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley will also sign autographs from noon to 5 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel by Hilton, 4500 W Cypress St., Tampa. The Santas also hope to donate 100 pints of blood to the community blood bank.

300 Santa Clauses coming to town for convention 05/12/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 10:00pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of Aug. 21-27


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Watch the team practice for free at Bucs Training Camp on Tuesday-Thursday at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, where you'll also find the crew from HBO's Hard Knocks, the reality show featuring our team. Saturday, the team takes on the Cleveland Browns in a preseason game at …

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) participates in practice during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.
  2. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91


    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  3. If you miss out on Retro Futura tour, you'll be needing a little 'Tenderness'


    Closing out Retro Futura Week is a little bit of a cheat. We started the week with the English Beat and we end it with an offshoot of the Beat, the band General Public and their hit …

  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 20


    The Art of the Brick: An elaborate display of more than 100 pieces of Lego artwork including the life sized sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, a 20-foot-long T. rex skeleton, a giant skull and replicas of famous works including Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona …

    Eliana Goldberg, 5, of Wesley Chapel looks at a Lego sculpture called "Everlasting" at The Art of the Brick exhibit, which opened Friday in Tampa and runs through Sept. 4. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  5. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]