BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER: DOG OR CAT?

Cats and dogs have notoriously different needs and characteristics, but either can be good models for characters. 

The first large dogs appeared in Russia about 15,000 years ago. There were smaller dogs in Western Europe at about the same time, and other wolves were domesticated in China a little later. Modern dogs are mostly a mixture of all three types.  Worldwide, there are 360 recognized breeds, not counting those being created but not yet recognized.

There are 40 recognized cat breeds.  Domesticated cats have been around since 3600 B.C., 2000 years before Egypt’s pharaohs.

Question: Is your character from an old/first family? A pillar of society? A mix of different cultures and upbringings? 

Athleticism

Speed: On average, cats run 50 kph and dogs run 32 kph.  In other words, house cats can run at a speed of 30 miles per hour.

Flexibility: Cats have free-floating bones (clavicles) which allows them to move more freely, making them more flexible.  Cats are able to get through any openings they can get their heads through.

Appetite: Dogs win hands-down in eating contests, sometime gorging a whole meal in just a couple of bites; cats tend to eat more gracefully, and slowly.  (FYI, this is because cats cannot move their jaws horizontally; they can only  open and close.)

Agility: Unlike dogs, cats are able to jump (up to six times its length) and climb, which aids them in hunting and makes it easier to flee from danger. Their sharp, retractable claws provide a distinct advantage when it comes to catching prey and defending themselves from bigger predators. Because of this, cats have no need to work together to care for themselves. It also makes them territorial. 

Balance: Most female cats prefer using their right paw, while males are more likely to be “left-pawed”.

Lifespan: Cats live 25% longer than dogs (15 vs. 12 years).

Question: Are your characters’ strengths and/or weaknesses more cat-like or more dog-like?

Brain Power

Memory: Research under controlled laboratory conditions have demonstrated that both dogs and cats exhibit what’s called episodic memory—i.e., their brains make possible the conscious recollection of events as they were previously experienced. It’s a rare trait in animals.

Cats have a longer-term memory than dogs, especially when they learn by actually doing rather than simply seeing.

Training: Dogs are generally the easier of the two to train. A dog’s pack mentality makes him ready to follow a leader and makes him generally more obedient by nature.  You can teach an old dog new tricks. Although eager puppies soak up information (just like human children), dogs can learn at any age (also like humans).

Cats can be trained, but not as thoroughly as dogs. It requires a lot of patience and consistent practice to get past their willful nature. With cats, it’s best to focus training on establishing boundaries.

A cat’s cerebral cortex (the part of the brain in charge of cognitive information processing) has 300 million neurons. That’s almost double a dog’s.

Emotion: A cat’s brain is 90% more similar to a human’s than to a dog’s. Cats and humans have nearly identical sections of the brain that control emotion.

Dogs don’t feel guilty. They might look guilty at having done something wrong, it’s just their reaction to being reprimanded. Over the millennia, dogs have evolved to mimic human facial expressions to ingratiate themselves and get more treats. However, dogs do feel intense affection for their favorite people. Researchers demonstrated that dogs’ heart rates increase when their owners speak to them or call their name.

Dreaming: Both cats and dogs dream, as evidenced by brainwave patterns similar to humans.

Questions: Is your character more a pack animal or a loner? What are his/her strongest brain functions?

Character/ Personality

Pack or Solitary: Dogs are hardwired with pack instinct that generally makes them social, friendly, and all too happy to belong to a group. Dogs instinctively go wherever their pack goes, which makes them more readily accepting of new experiences, such as travel or moving. Dogs are good followers.

By contrast, with the exception of lions, most cats in the wild are solitary nocturnal hunters. Cats have no need to work together to thrive.  As solitary animals, they are okay alone all day.  Their independence may make them seem aloof.  Cats can be content as long as they have the essentials.  They do enjoy social interaction, though.

Stimulation: Cats would do much better in COVID lockdown or other confinement than dogs!

Dogs need lots of stimulation, fresh air and regular exercise.  Dogs enjoy days out and traveling.  Dogs often tend to be more expensive to care for than a cat (food, toys, accessories, grooming, etc.).

Schedule: Dogs are diurnal; cats are nocturnal and like to roam the house at night. Cats sleep 70% of the times.

Question: what is hard-wired in your character?

Communication

Body Language: A cat’s whiskers pointed forward is a sign of inquiry or curiosity; pointed back is a sign of fright/not wanting whatever is coming its way.

The way a dog wags its tail can tell you its mood. It’s suggested a wag to the right means happy and to the left means frightened. Low wags indicate they’re insecure.

Within a pack, dogs communicate almost entirely through body language. Much of this body language can be copied by humans to communicate with dogs, including eye contact, head position, torso angle, and invading or conceding personal space.

Vocalization: Dogs are able to understand 200 words, the same number as a two-year-old human.

Cats make more than 100 different sounds whereas dogs make around 10. The basenji is the only breed of dog that can’t bark. However, they can yodel!

One study indicated that hungry cats ‘meow’ in the same frequency as a crying baby, hitting the human brain right in the obnoxious evolutionary hindbrain (especially in the middle of the night).

Question: Does your character communicate (send and/or receive) better with verbal, non-verbal, or paraverbal skills?

Sensitivity

Smell: A dog’s sense of smell is up to 100,000 times more than humans.  Bloodhounds are able to trace scents that are over 300 hours old.

Vision: Cats see more colors than dogs do.  Dogs see primarily on a blue and yellow scale; they can’t tell the difference between green and red.  Visual acuity is better for dogs, but cats see better in the dark.

Cats’ whiskers help them detect motion changes.

Hearing: Cats can hear almost a full octave higher than dogs (sounds as high as 64 kHz), and both can hear in the ultrasonic level.  Hearing is the strongest of a cat’s senses. 

The ability of a cat to find its way home is called “psi-travelling.” Experts think cats either use the angle of the sunlight to find their way or that cats have magnetized cells in their brains that act as compasses.

Question: Which of your characters’ senses are most highly developed? Did that come naturally? Was it/them honed on purpose?

Bottom line: Considering your characters’ physical and psychological traits will contribute to a richer, more compelling character.

GLOBAL BELLY LAUGH DAY

Join The Belly Laugh Bounce Around the World:  on January 24 at 1:24 p.m. local time, smile, throw your arms in the air and laugh out loud.

Suggestions for acts and activities can be found at bellylaughday.com
Why bother? Because laughter is good for your physical and mental health! 

According to the Mayo Clinic:
When it comes to relieving stress, more giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered. Here’s why.  

[NB: I’ve changed some formatting and left out some bits, but you can fill those in by going to the Mayo Clinic website.]

Short Term

A good laugh has great short-term effects.  When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body.

  • Stimulate many organs. 
    • Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. 
    • A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. 
    • Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Long Term

Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long term.

  • Improve your immune system. 
    • Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.
    • By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.
  • Relieve pain. 
    • Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.
  • Increase personal satisfaction. 
    • Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations.
    • It helps you connect with other people.
  • Improve your mood. 
    • Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.

How’s Your Sense of Humor?

  • Ask the professionals.
    • Find a few things that make you chuckle, such as photos, greeting cards or comic strips, and hang them up at home or in your office.
    • Keep funny movies, books, magazines or comedy videos on hand for when you need an added humor boost.
    • Look online at joke websites.
    • Go to a comedy club.
  • Find a way to laugh about your own situations and watch your stress begin to fade away.
    • Even if it feels forced at first, practice laughing. It does your body good.
    • Consider trying laughter yoga: people practice laughter as a group. Laughter is forced at first, but soon turns spontaneous.
  • Share a laugh. 
    • Make it a habit to spend time with friends who make you laugh.
    • And then return the favor by sharing funny stories or jokes with those around you.
  • Knock, knock. 
    • Browse through your local bookstore or library’s selection of joke books and add a few jokes to your list that you can share with friends.
    • Retelling jokes or anecdotes that are stale or dated could be a good indicator of a character’s age or social awkwardness.
  • Know what isn’t funny. 
    • Don’t laugh at the expense of others.
    • Some forms of humor aren’t appropriate.
    • Use your best judgment to discern a good joke from a bad or hurtful one.
    • A hurtful sense of humor might indicate a character’s villainous nature before any deliberately villainous acts.

Go ahead and give it a try. Turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile and then give a laugh, even if it feels a little forced. Once you’ve had your chuckle, take stock of how you’re feeling. Are your muscles a little less tense? Do you feel more relaxed or buoyant? That’s the natural wonder of laughing at work.

Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan (Loma Linda University) have found the following physical health benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces stress hormone levels
  • Works your abdominal muscles
  • Improves cardiac health
  • Boosts T-cells
  • Triggers the release of endorphins
  • Produces a general sense of well-being

Humana.com adds the following:

  • Relieves pain
  • Burns calories
  • Increases blood flow

Still not convinced?  Go online and read for yourself!

And while you are at it, better know your laughter!  There are as many words for laughter as there are for types of laughter. Consider the positive and negative connotations of the following: 

  • Guffaw
  • Giggle
  • Snigger
  • Chuckle
  • Chortle
  • Titter
  • Howl
  • Roar
  • Snicker
  • Cackle
  • Shriek
  • Snort

Bottom line: When it comes to laughter, too much of a good thing is still a good thing!

WHAT’S A CAR FOR, ANYWAY?

Parking in front of a fire hydrant is illegal, and this is why. If they need to, firefighters will smash in a car’s windows to attach their hoses effectively. In addition to smashed windows, broken glass, and water all over the car, the driver will also get a ticket.
If you’re reading the driving manual while driving the cab, it may be too late.

I don’t know whether I’m on a roll or in a rut. Having considered the variety of bed activities people indulge in, I was primed to notice what’s going on on the road. The other day, I stopped at a traffic light and saw a woman in the car next to mine was putting on mascara and eyeliner. So here we go!

Besides driving and riding. . .

Please note: Some of these are much better done while riding than while driving! (Or not being done at all…)

Deliberately driving your car into the path of a drunk driver to prevent it running over pedestrians.
  • Catch up on email
  • Brush or floss teeth
  • Needlework, especially knitting
  • Play travel games, such as “I spy…” or rhyming
    • Usually involves at least one child
Drive along scenic or historic routes
Sleep, with or without snoring and drooling
  • Meditate or pray
  • Eat, sometimes an entire meal
  • Drink
  • Read
    • eReader or physical book
    • Listen to audiobook
  • Listen to music
    • Learn music
  • Talk on the phone
  • Text
  • Update social media
  • Apply or fix makeup
  • Comb/style hair
Actively seek death
  • Argue
  • Get a man to really talk
    • Research has established that men driving, eyes straight ahead, are more likely to engage in sustained and/or intimate conversation
  • Translate vanity plates into words
  • Watch videos
  • Work on laptop
  • Catch up on the news
  • Save money on insurance by driving safely
  • Urinate in a bottle
    • Not easily accomplished for females
Hang feet out the window
  • Change glasses
    • Put in contact lenses
  • Change masks
  • Pick nose
  • Trim nose hair
  • Groom fingernails
    • File
    • Glue
    • Polish
    • Clip or polish toenails
  • Prop one or both feet on dashboard
  • Smoke or vape
    • (In many states, it is now illegal to smoke near hospitals or with a child in the car)
Shave
  • Change clothes
  • Steer with knees or forearms
  • Get a massage Some car seats are made for it now
  • Pick up hitch-hikers
  • Suffer road rage
    • Honk the horn
    • Flip someone the bird
    • Turn headlights on/off
  • Take pictures
  • Practice a foreign language
  • Crying or weeping
  • Sing along with the music in your head
  • Ask “Are we there yet?” every thirty seconds

Bottom line: can you spell distracted driving?

MULTI-PURPOSE FURNITURE: BEDS!

Lectrology, the study of the bed and its associated surroundings, can be extremely useful and tell you a great deal about the owner, even if it’s only that they are a very knowing and savvy installations artist.”
from Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

Well, yes, we all know about sex and sleep for energy recovery—separately or together, in no particular order! But for writing and/or personal reasons, think more broadly. What else happens in bed?

Plotting escape
  • Cuddling, before or after sex or on its own. One can actually hire a professional cuddler, female and/or male, paid by the hour for fully-clothed non-sexual cuddling.  
  • Getting/staying warm. Also think winter with no heat in the house.
    • In many parts of the world, it is customary for entire families to spend any free time in bed together, doing homework, making or repairing tools, or any other relatively stationary work, to conserve heat
  • Binge-watching TV (much more comfortable than on a sofa)
Escaping!
  • Getting sucked down the rabbit hole of YouTube
    • Or Tumblr, Cracked, Buzzfeed, Pinterest, etc.
  • Reading: books, magazines, newspapers, electronic devices
  • Eating and/or drinking
    • Sometimes this is just snacking, but on special occasions one may have a full meal delivered in bed
  • Working the Sunday Times crossword puzzle
Feeding your baby sister to the lions
  • Solving sudoku
    • Throwing the half-completed sudoku across the room when you realize there are two nines in the row
  • Playing a board game (carefully or with magnetic pieces)
  • Playing solitaire
  • Staring at the ceiling or into the dark and discuss serious issues with your bed partner
    • You can do this alone, but then it’s more of a monologue than discussion. 
      • Hearing a response to your monologue when you think you’re alone…!
Striking a pose
  • Indulging in catastrophic thinking about some personal issue, a family matter, and/or the future of humankind
    • What is the worst thing that could happen?
    • How could that come about?
    • And what might it lead to?
  • A refuge to escape an unpleasant task or situation by feigning illness
    • Often this is only a temporary fix, delaying the inevitable
Laying on the hard floor next to your bed without using it just to be stubborn
  • Recovering from an actual illness or injury
    • Applying ice or heat
    • Elevating a body part to reduce blood flow
    • Physical therapy exercises
  • Practicing modified choreography
  • Composing music
  • Cower with your head under the covers during a storm or earthquake
  • Playing with children or pets
Being the monster under the bed
  • Having a pillow fight
  • Jumping on the bed
  • Using bedding to stifle loud weeping, moaning, etc.
  • Toss, turn, and knot the bedclothes because you can’t get to sleep
    • Often with added frustration if someone is sleeping soundly beside you
  • Doing back exercises before getting up for the day
  • Nursing a hangover after being knee-walking drunk the night before
Yoga
  • Getting a massage: back, front, scalp, feet, calves, neck—whatever aches, feels good, or is your body-part fetish 
  • Sleeping excessively, possibly as a symptom of depression, illness, boredom, etc.
  • Thinking about plot points or themes for fiction and blog writing
    • In this instance, it helps to have a note pad and pen that light up when in use, or a device for dictating notes. Do not trust your memory!
  • Talking on the phone, usually for a l-o-n-g time
Levitating
  • Posting to Facebook, Twitter, or other social media
  • Sexting – NOT RECOMMENDED
  • Doing work/schoolwork, especially in the time of COVID
  • Getting bitten (bedbugs, spiders, humans. . .)
  • Deleting old emails, cleaning up the in box(es)
  • Mentally working out math problems and theorems using a base-6 rather than a base-10 number system

Bottom line: If you can imagine doing it in bed, you probably can—or can come up with a reasonable approximation.

Experiencing the outside world for the first time ever

PSYCHOLOGY OF CULTS

Cults are nothing new. Indeed, if asked to name a cult, you could probably name a few. In ancient Greece and Rome, a cult was simply the care owed to a deity, the rituals carried out at a shrine or temple. A mystery cult was a religious group that celebrated a minor god or goddess or a lesser-known aspect of a deity’s history. The word “cult” has different connotations today.

Janja Lalich, Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico, is a big gun in cult research.  Her website, Cult Research, provides extensive information about the mental mechanics involved in cults. She has also included resources for recognizing signs of a cult and how to help others who may have been impacted by a cult.

Modern Cults

There have been too many cults to count throughout history, but the vast majority have been small and soon forgotten. A post on Insider.com listed the six most notorious cults in history. (These cults have been extensively discussed and researched by people who were kind enough to share their findings online.) 

  • The (Charles) Manson Family famously murdered seven people over the course of two nights. Their stated intention was to start a race war. The Manson Family was formed in the late 60s.
  • Members of Heaven’s Gate were told that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus, that God was an alien, and that the end of the world was near. In 1997, 39 members died after ingesting barbiturates and putting plastic bags over their heads. It is the largest mass suicide on US soil.
  • The Children of God was founded in 1968 as a system of communal living under the strict teachings of preacher David Berg. Multiple former members have testified that the church used prostitution as a recruitment tool and engaged in widespread child trafficking and sexual abuse. The organization later rebranded to The Family of Love International, and it is still active online.
  • Jim Jones founded The People’s Temple in Indianapolis in 1955 but moved the band to Guyana, and called the place Jonestown, in 1977. Reports of member abuse followed the group from place to place. In 1978, Jones instructed all of his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. More than 900 people died. This is the origin of the slang expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” meaning a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea.

From the Wikipedia entry on cults:

“In modern English, a cult is a social group that is defined by its unusual religiousspiritual, or philosophical beliefs, or by its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. This sense of the term is controversial, having divergent definitions both in popular culture and academia, and has also been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.  The word ‘cult’ is usually considered pejorative.”

Cults are attractive because they promote a feeling of comfort, and because they satisfy the human desire for absolute answers.

Characteristics Common to Cult Leaders 

Lists of characteristics vary in inclusiveness and contain both personality and behavioral characteristics.

Personality
  • Narcissism shows up on every list
  • Charisma is an essential quality
  • Personal proclivities that shape what’s expected of group members
  • Need for control/maintain power imbalance
  • Psychopath
  • Often delusional, believing their own teachings 
Behavior
  • Offer tantalizing promises
  • Be unpredictable (reactions, appearances, next demands)
  • Organize “love bombs” for new recruits
  • Promote an us vs. them mentality, feelings of superiority
  • Isolate members from family, former friends
  • Public humiliation of established members
  • Demand detailed acknowledgment of individual fears and mistakes
  • Repeat various lies and distortions till members can’t recognize reality
  • Promote paranoia: a group, family or government is out to get members
  • Encourage members to spy on each other

Writing in Psychology Today in 2012, Joe Navarro, M.A., presented his personal list of 50 clues to identifying cult leaders.  Listed below are several of his items.

  • A grandiose idea of who he is and what he can achieve
  • Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, or brilliance
  • Demands blind, unquestioned obedience
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement or power
    • Expects to be treated as special at all times
    • Expects to be able to bend rules and break laws without repercussion
  • Arrogant and haughty
  • Hypersensitive to how he is seen or perceived by others
    • Is highly dependent on tribute and adoration and will often fish for compliments
    • When criticized, lashes out with rage
    • Anyone who criticizes or questions him is called an “enemy”
  • Hates to be embarrassed or fail publicly; often reacts with rage
  • Publicly devalues others as being inferior, incapable, or not worthy
    • Habitually puts down others as inferior
  • Ignores the needs of others, including biological, physical, emotional, and financial needs
  • Frequently boastful of accomplishments
  • Needs to be the center of attention 
    • The word “I” dominates his conversations
  • Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated, or exploited for personal gain
  • Is deeply offended by signs of boredom, being ignored, or being slighted
  • Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong, nor does he apologize
  • Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems
  • Works the least but demands the most
  • Sees self as “unstoppable” and perhaps has even said so

Characteristics Common to Cult Members

  • Female: world-wide, 70% of cult members are women
    • Explanations for this vary
  • Generally average sorts of people. No trends in location, income, etc.
  • Suffer low self-esteem, making them especially susceptible to love bomb (compliments, etc.)
  • Many have rejected standard religions
  • Intelligent
  • From sheltered environments
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Strive for perfectionistic goals
  • Often have no idea they are in a cult!

Characteristics Common to Religious Cults 

  • It opposes critical thinking
  • Isolates members and punishes them for leaving
  • Emphasizes special doctrines outside accepted scriptures
  • Seeking inappropriate loyalty to leaders
  • Devalues the family unit
  • Crossing boundaries of behavior (especially sexual) set in accepted religious texts
  • Separation from the main religious structure

Common Recruiting Tactics 

  • Target people who are stressed, emotionally vulnerable, have tenuous or no family connections, or are living in adverse socioeconomic conditions.
  • People who were neglected or abused as children may be easily recruited because they crave the validation denied them in their childhood
  • High school and new college students are good targets for cult recruitment since they’re still forming their identity and (in the case of college students) have recently been separated from their families
    • One old (1980) study of 1000 high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 54% reported at least one recruitment attempt by a cult member, and 40% reported 3 to 5 contacts
  • I can only imagine that the rise of various social media platforms would have exploded those numbers.

Damage to Cult Members 

Various research has established that former cult members suffer long-term negative effects. Dr. John G Clark, Jr, of Harvard University works with former cult members and their families identifies the following 

  • Increased irritability
  • Loss of libido or altered sexual interest
  • Ritualism
  • Compulsive attention to detail
  • Mystical states
  • Humorlessness
  • Heightened paranoia

Because these are symptoms similar to temporal lobe epilepsy, it’s reasonable to assume that membership in a cult is a brain-changing experience. 

Bottom line: There is much we can and should learn about cults—possibly in our lives, certainly in the world around us. Many of these qualities and behaviors are present to some degree in people who aren’t actual cult leaders or members. Still, they provide fodder for compatible/consistent constellations of attitudes and behaviors. Think character creation!

Hot Fuzz, in addition to being a great movie, provides an example of two cults working against each other and destroying individuals in the way.

Betrayed by the Tongue

Today’s blog entry was written by Kathleen Corcoran, a local harpist, writer, editor, favorite auntie, turtle lover, canine servant, and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher.

Believe it or not, not everyone speaks English as a native language. To strain credulity further, consider that not every character learned English as a native language. Shocking, I know!

But how to convey through written words that a speaker has an accent?

Otto von Chriek, vampire photographer

One method is to transcribe phonetically the way a character speaks, as the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett demonstrated so well. A vampire in his fantasy universe of Discworld, deliberately emphasizes his accent when he wants to appear odd rather than threatening.

“Vell, I’m not official,” said Otto. “I do not haf zer sword and zer badge. I do not threaten. I am just a vorking stiff. And I make zem laff.”
from Thud! by Terry Pratchett

But what about a subtler signifier of a character’s foreign origins? There could be a million reasons to let your audience know that a character was originally not a member of the “in” group.

  • Signal that a character will have a different cultural perspective when reacting to events.
  • Sign that a character, by virtue of a different upbringing, has insight or expertise others may need.
  • Foreshadowing of any kind of discrimination practiced against a group designated as “others.”
  • Mockery of any slight difference shows the character of the people mocking as well as those standing by and those reacting.
  • Very subtle differences can clue in a reader that something is off, for example a spy or an imposter.

Fortunately for our purposes as writers, English is weird. So many rules have exceptions or no reasonable guidelines of when to apply them…. it’s enough to drive any ESL student mad. If any of these rules (that you probably follow without noticing) are broken, that’s enough to make a reader notice that something is off.

Articles

Should a noun have a definite or indefinite article? Or no article at all? Go ahead and try to explain the rules without looking it up. I’ve been an EFL teacher for years (and occasionally an ESL teacher), and I still mix things up. Like most native English speakers, I tend to rely on what sounds right.

If your non-native English speaker hails from a real country on Earth (as opposed to another planet or a fantasy realm), you can simply have the character follow the rules of their native language. A native French speaker would be likely to overuse articles. A native Russian speaker might skip articles altogether.

Consider these examples:

  • Quick brown fox jumping over lazy dog.
  • The dog, she is lazy. A fox jumps over the dog, no problem.

Of course, if the character learned a language you’ve made up, the rules are entirely up to you.

Word Order

English, like Bulgarian and Swahili, is a SVO language; Subject Verb Object is the typical sentence structure. The meaning of a sentence can be changed simply by changing the word order. The most common word order is SOV– the verb comes at the end of the sentence, after the object. Qartuli and Mongolian are SOV languages.

Other common sentence structures include VSO (Hawaiian), VOS (Malagasy), OVS (Hixkaryana), and OSV (Xavante). Trying to fit English sentences into any of these other structures can create some very awkward conversations.

Just to be contrary, Latin word order makes no difference to the meaning of a sentence and is often jumbled deliberately for poetic effect. (I’m looking at you, Virgil!)

Yoda is one of the most widely known characters who speaks English with inverted word order. Although he has no obvious accent, his speech immediately lets the audience know that he is alien.

Agreement

Some languages have declensions and conjugations and all sorts of ways in which words change form to indicate specifics. Others have separate words to indicate number, tense, intention, etc., though the word itself stays the same. English has both.

Sometimes verbs change when they’re in the past tense (walk-walked); sometimes they don’t (put-put). Just for fun, some verbs change into entirely different words when they change tense (bear-bore).

Nouns are just as bizarre. In kindergarten, the teacher told me I just had to put an S at the end of the word. Then there were geese, children, moose, alumni, crises, and vortices. I still haven’t figured out the rule for the cello.

Naturally, this is an area of difficulty for many people who did not learn English as children. It’s also an area of difficulty for people who have been speaking English since infancy.

Idioms and Connotations

Even if a character speaks English absolutely fluently, there are still a million linguistic tripwires. A native English speaker from Minnesota will still have trouble understanding casual speech in Scotland.

I once watched a Scottish man and a South African man argue about something (I think it was Australian immigration policy, but that’s just a guess). They were mutually unintelligible. As they grew more excited, each slipped further into his native accent and became less understandable by the other. Theoretically, all three of us spoke the same language. In practice, I felt like I was watching a verbal tennis match that gradually turned into frantic hand gestures and facial expressions. It was both surreal and hilarious!

Other Sources

Translators are very useful sources for learning the grammar of a language you don’t know. If you want to have a character be newly arrived in Australia from Siberia, try looking at the translator’s notes in a new edition of War and Peace.

  • Mobi Warren, a translator of Hermitage Among the Clouds by Thích Nhất Hạnh, explained some of the difficulties in translating Vietnamese into English. He wrote, “All this moving between past and present is more easily expressed in Vietnamese, a language in which none of the words have tenses.”
  • Ancient writers can be particularly difficult to translate to modern English, but understanding those difficulties is a great way to highlight changes over time. If you’re trying to invent a language for a fantasy or science fiction setting, try basing the grammar on ancient Egyptian or Shang dynasty Chinese.

Another very useful source for finding ways to indicate non-native English speakers in dialogue is to look at resources for teaching English as a Second Language or English as a Foreign Language. If other teachers point out an area that’s particularly difficult, odds are that a character you write would have trouble with that same area.

Bottom Line: Lack of fluency is not the same as lack of intelligence. Odd speech patterns imply accents without needing to use odd spelling.

THE GREAT DELIVERY DEBACLE: FACTS AND FICTION

UPS and FedEx are much involved in delivering COVID vaccines, and their reported delays are at least partly due to that. On the other hand, USPS delays are attributed to sheer volume. How bad is it? Reportedly, more than 93% of USPS package arrived on time. If so, why am I so special? 

FACTS

Unrelated to anything, Halibut Cove, Alaska has a floating Post Office!

Here’s a look at the sorts of delays that happened this year—and are ongoing—within my own circle. 

His credentials check out, but there’s something funny about the new guy.
  • I ordered a gift for a friend on 12/02/20. It has not yet been delivered.
  • On 12/16/20, I mailed 4 packages, to OH, MA, CO, and CT. 
    • 12/19/20 The package arrived in Arvada, CO.
    • 12/24/20 Packages arrived in East Longmeadow, MA, and Winstead, CT.
    • 12/28/20 The package arrived in Lancaster, OH.
  • 12/11/20 A package was mailed to me from Lancaster, OH, and as of this writing, it still hasn’t arrived.
Maybe they had trouble reading the shipping label.
  • Merchandise ordered:
    • 12/17/20 Est. delivery 12/22/20, in transit, currently in MD
    • 12/18/20 Est. delivery 12/23/20, in transit 
    • 12/20/20 Est. delivery 12/26/20, still in transit
    • 12/21/20 Out for delivery in Henrico
    • 12/28/20 Again out for delivery in Henrico—but not delivered.
The US Postal delivery tracking looks a bit like the wiring for a bomb.
  • Hiram, OH, is a town so small that there is no home delivery of mail. A former colleague there reported mailing packages to CA and two other distant states, all of which arrived on time.
  • On the other hand, a local friend of his (in Hiram, OH) mailed a Christmas card to him at the same post office, which showed up in his mailbox six days later.
I didn’t know the Post Office had a police force, but being a Mail Cop is now the highest goal in my life.
  • A family member in East Longmeadow, MA, shipped two packages at the local USPS on 12/19/20, one to PA and one to VT.
    • Both packages left the local USPS at 2:30 that afternoon.
    • The PA package arrived at its destination on 12/22/20.
    • The VT package arrived in Atlanta at 5:17 on the 12/20/20.
      • On the 21st it arrived at the “local” USPS facility in Stockbridge, GA, and was out for delivery.
      • On 12/22/20 it went from Stockbridge to southern CT, arriving on 12/23/20.
      • That night it went to Nashua, NH, where it remains.

These events are, indirectly, caused by COVID: people are out less, traveling less, shopping online, and mailing rather than delivering presents. Thus, the presumed disruption is sheer overload of the system. 

Whew! Been stuck in that box for almost a month!

As essential workers, employees involved in packing, sorting, driving, and delivering all these orders are more exposed to infection. Every sick employee puts extra strain on all the others, who have to scramble to fill the supply chain.

But what if there’s more to it than that?

FICTION

Never discount the possibility of dragons. They show up when least expected.

All of the above are true, but my writer’s brain can’t help spinning far more fantastic scenarios. Three possibilities come immediately to mind.

A Shadowy International Organization Did It

Foreign agents from several countries have demonstrated that they have the ability to hack into and interfere with U.S. systems. Perhaps it was the Illuminati. Maybe it’s a rogue branch of the CIA or the NSA.

What’s that bit in the middle?

In this case, possibly they created a bug in the electronic sorting systems to misdirect randomly targeted packages in a way that never shows up but creates massive unpredictability.

It could even be the manufacturer of what was ordered, secretly diverting every product bound for the East Coast and implanting surveillance equipment as part of their plan to take over the entire supply of saltwater taffy.

The Postal Workers Did It
Something seems a bit off about his uniform…

Postal workers have felt overworked and under-appreciated. The new Postmaster General is a political appointee who doesn’t know or care how the United States Post Office works. Hours have been cut, essential equipment has been removed and destroyed, some customers are told to be treated better than others, and warehouses are filling with ever-growing piles of late deliveries.

If you refuse to wear a mask, Postal Workers give your mail to these two.

Because December is always the busiest month at the Post Office, employees are burdened by irate customers. They retaliate at both the local and national level. At the local level, the packages of rude customers are shifted to a “delay” bin. When a customer comes in with an inordinate number of packages, half of them also go to the delay bin. When the packages in the “delay” bin go out, they are stamped with a secret symbol telling other works along the line to delay this package. Members of the Postal Workers’ Union have passed the word on the dark web.

The Fickle Finger of Fate is Responsible 
Shipping children is probably not great for your karma. They didn’t even have air holes!

A great, cosmic karma targeted people who haven’t suffered enough during COVID—who haven’t suffered food deprivation, loss of housing, loss of employment, depression, substance abuse, or actually suffering COVID hospitalization. These people have their packages delayed and lost as the first part of Cosmic Balance Restoration. Unfortunately, sometimes people outside the target group are affected.

Bottom line: Consider your delivery debacles (or any other disruption in your usual expectations) and what might be the real cause!

Why is Christmas Celebrated on December 25th?

From the Basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris, France

The logical answer would be, “We celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th because that’s when He was born.” But in this instance, the logical answer is probably wrong.

From St. Joseph Catholic Church in Somerset, Ohio

Neither the Bible nor any other record dates Jesus’s actual day of birth. In addition, the season when shepherds would be watching their flocks by night and when the census was taken would argue that the actual birth was either spring or autumn.

The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum

According to Stephen Nissenbaum, author of The Battle for Christmas, early Christians weren’t bothered by not knowing Jesus’s birthday for “It never occurred to them that they needed to celebrate his birthday.”

Further, according to Nissenbaum, the Church got into something of a crisis, with people tending to believe that Jesus never existed as a man. Instituting a birthday celebration was a way to counteract that trend.

From Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany

The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was 336AD, during the time of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine. Perhaps he chose that date because Pagan Romans would be celebrating the Winter Solstice, Saturnalia, and “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” (birth of the unconquered sun god, Mitra) anyway.

From the St. Michael Cathedral Basilica in Toronto, Canada

Another possible explanation stems from Jewish tradition. Male babies were circumcised and given their names eight days after their birth. Church elders may have settled upon the beginning of the new year as the Naming Day of Jesus; eight days before that would be December 25th.

Pope Julius I is said to have declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th of December. However, the sources for this claim are extremely questionable.

From the Church of São Salvador in Trofa, Portugal

One very early Christian tradition held that on March 25th the Angel Gabriel told Mary she would have a very special baby. The Annunciation is still celebrated on March 25th—and nine months later is December 25th.  

The early Church celebrated Christmas, the Epiphany, and the Baptism of Jesus all on January 6th. In some parts of the UK, January 6th is still called Old Christmas.

Then, too, not everyone celebrates Christmas on December 25th even today. Many Christians use other dates or December 25th on non-Gregorian calendars. The dates below are all Gregorian.

From the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, Turkey
  • January 6–The Armenian Apostolic Church and the Armenian Catholic Church
  • January 7–Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Rite Catholics in Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
  • January 7 or 8–Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
  • January 19–The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
From the Basilique Saint-Urbain in Troyes, France

If you’re particularly bored (or really itching for a fight) in the next few weeks, go online and declare that you know the definitive birthdate of Jesus. No matter what date you claim, people will swarm to prove you wrong.

“THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.” REALLY?

CONSIDER THE DOWNSIDE OF CHRISTMAS.

Part of the downside of Christmas is this myth that everything and everyone is merry and bright, and if you aren’t, you must be a Scrooge. Or a Grinch. Or Burgemeister Meister Burgher. Indeed, much of what follows also applies to Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ōmisoka, and other holidays too numerous to mention. Almost everyone (every character?) suffers one or more of these downsides of typical celebrations.

Exposure Fatigue

“Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues reflects the loneliness despair of Christmas.
  • Going into a store in October and see “decorations” for Halloween, Thanksgiving, AND Christmas
  • Christmas music that begins to be played everywhere before Thanksgiving
    • Christmas music gets old fast, particularly for people working in retail
  • Commercials touting the “perfect” gift
  • The pervasiveness of sappy Christmas movies (and over-exposure to the good ones, such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”)

Physical Fatigue

  • Decorating
  • Food preparation
  • Package wrapping and/or mailing
  • Attending celebratory events, especially navigating office/work place parties
  • Hassles of travel (insane boarding lines, delayed flights, driving clogged highways)
  • Making gifts or cards by hand
  • Shopping for presents
    • Finding a mall parking space 2 miles from the shops
  • Tracking down the right present for the right person 

Weather

  • Living in a warm place, one laments the lack of snow
  • Living in a cold climate, one laments cold and snow that keep people inside
  • Ice storms that keep one from attending/hosting a holiday event
  • Combination of extra traffic, stressed drivers, and wintry weather can make every drive a terrifying experience

Family Stresses

  • Feeling compelled to see family you’d rather not
    • Spending time with the family of one’s significant other can be even worse
  • Conflicts between/among guests
  • Pretending to like presents you don’t
  • Taking awkward photos
  • Kids demands for presents and apply pressure in  in terms of values, money, and parenting
  • Waiting in endless lines for kids to visit Santa at the mall
  • Bad situations can worsen, and marriages are strained
    • Recently divorced parents navigating custody arrangements
    • Divorce lawyers have their busiest month in January

Financial Strains

Why does everyone want a pony?
  • Feeling pressed to give a gift of equivalent value, even when the “gift lists” for giver and recipient aren’t the same
  • Dealing with a year when one’s gift-giving must be cut/downsized in number and/or expense and it will be obvious
  • Higher electric bill for huge outdoor displays 
  • Travel, tickets, decorations, food, etc., can drain bank accounts and max out credit cards even without buying gifts

Physical Health

  • Emergency room visits are up 5-12% around Christmas
    • Slips and falls on icy walkways or while putting up decorations
    • Sharp object injuries from unfamiliar cooking utensils, new toys, assembling gifts
    • Falls from a height
    • Workplace accidents
    • Abdominal discomfort from overeating
    • Psychiatric disorders exacerbated by stress and crowds
    • Poisonings
      • Incorrectly prepared food
      • Overconsumption of alcohol
  • Disruption of healthy patterns
    • Abandoning diets or eating irregularly
    • Loss of sleep
    • Failure to follow doctor’s instructions for treatment and/or medication
  • A typical Christmas meal is likely to be two-to-three times the recommended daily calorie count
    • Indulging in meals, cakes, pies, chocolates, or whatever sweets
    • Cookies, biscuits, candy, homemade treats brought in to the workplace or shared by shops for the entire season
  • Stress levels are almost certain to be higher than usual
    • Stress contributes to heart disease, stroke, and cancer
    • Stress leading to immune system breakdowns, leading to colds, for example
  • Mingling with more people exposes them to more infections, especially flu and flu-like symptoms
  • Falls, cuts, and burns result in tens of thousand of visits to the ER
  • Alcohol consumption resulting in alcohol poisoning, broken bones from skips and fall, car and home accidents, etc.
  • Domestic violence is up about one-third compared to an average day

An ambulance driver explained it to me this way:

“It’s like everyone’s on a hurt-yourself schedule, same every year. Early morning starts with the drunk drivers going home from parties, sometimes the homeless with hypothermia, depends on the weather. Then the kids get up way too early and open their presents and start hitting each other with them or falling off anything with wheels and breaking any bone you can think of.

Even the angels are drinking too much!

“After that, you get a mix of cooking accidents and alcohol poisonings through the afternoon. Eventually, people hit their limit with family, have too much to drink, and start beating on each other. That’s also about the time ‘lonely hearts’ start calling us, asking to go to the hospital just because they have no place else to go and they don’t want to be alone.

“People eat too much at dinner and get the ‘too-much-macaroni sweats.’ They get heartburn and think they’re having a heart attack. We get more alcohol calls, either people fighting or passing out.

“And then everyone heads home, driving drunk. Better hope your tree doesn’t catch on fire. Happy Holidays.”

Mental Health

  • There is a MYTH that suicides peak around Christmas – they actually peak in spring
  • That said, it is breakup season
    • The peak breakup time is the two weeks before Christmas
  • Overall, holiday depression is a real thing
    • Family conflicts
    • Financial woes
    • Expectations of perfection
    • Singles watching couples get all mushy
  • Loneliness is highlighted, especially for older people who live alone and have no one available with whom to celebrate
    • People 65 and older are twice as likely to spend Christmas alone, compared to younger people
  • The loss of a family member—previous or recent—is especially painful
  • Being/fearing being left out of desirable events
  • Mistletoe invites unwanted advances
  • People with birthdays anywhere near Christmas often find the events conflated
  • Dealing with someone who has problems, like alcoholism or domestic violence
  • Wishing to skip Christmas because of other events in one’s life
  • Accessing helpful services that normally help one cope can be more difficult
  • Finding other religious festivals or holidays fade in comparison to Christmas
  • Overall, people are more likely to experience anxiety, sleep disturbances, headaches, loss of appetite, and poor concentration
  • Call rates to help hotlines spike on Christmas Eve

Environmental Downside

It’s after midnight! Wake up! Time for presents and sugar highs!
  • Massive amounts of trash going to landfills
    • Decorations
    • Single-use wrapping paper
  • Food waste
    • Imported foods enlarging your carbon footprint
  • Energy consumption
    • Traveling burning fossil fuels
    • Turning up the heat
    • Electric lights inside and outside

The End

  • Taking down/storing items for next year
  • Missing the buzz and activity
  • Realizing that nothing can be done about many things now regretted
Queen Elizabeth doesn’t take down her Christmas decorations until early February, in memory of her father’s death.

Bottom line: These are all for typical Christmases.  Consider which might be eased and which might be exacerbated in the year of COVID?

SANTAS ARE MADE, NOT BORN

Chocolate Santas with marzipan masks made by Hungarian chocolatier Laszlo Rimoczi.

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School is the oldest in existence. Before 1937, Santas were pretty much on their own, and any man with a red suit would do.

Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School

OUR MISSION:
To uphold the traditions and preserve the history of Santa Claus while providing students with the necessary resources to improve and further define their individual presentations of Santa and Mrs. Claus, allowing them to enter the hearts and spread the Christmas spirit to everyone they meet.

At the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, more than 200 aspiring Santas gather each year to attend a three-day series of classes where they learn everything from the history of Saint Nicholas to reindeer habits.

In November, 2018, Mental Floss took an in-depth look. Here are several points from their write-up, 13 Things to Know About The World’s Oldest Santa School.

It’s Considered the Harvard of Santa Schools

Each year, about 200 Santas (including a handful of Mrs. Clauses) attend class in Midland—but not everybody who applies gets accepted. Co-Dean Holly Valent rejects Santas who don’t seem interested in children or singing. (In other words, Santas who appear to be in it only for the money.) Additionally, she has to place around 40 prospective Santas on a waiting list each year. Thankfully, the workshop in Midland is not the only Santa school under the North Pole.

Child Psychology is the Name of the Game

The most important aspect of being a good Santa is learning how to genuinely listen to all kinds of children. “[Y]ou have to be on your toes all the time, because you never know what the children are going to ask you,” Mary Ida Doan, who plays Mrs. Claus, told WJRT. (Doan would know: She’s a member of the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame.)

During the workshop, the Santas get schooled in child psychology and learn handy tricks from experts and each other: How to deal with squirmy children, crying children, children who are afraid of you, and more. The Santas even learn basic sign language. “It’s important to be able to spread Christmas cheer to all children,” a Santa named Bill told Reuters.

An organization called Santa America provides extra training for Santas to connect with children who need a different kind of communication to reach all that Christmas cheer. The frenetic atmosphere at a typical Santa’s Grotto can be overwhelming and terrifying for any child. Santas who have trained with Santa America can create a quieter, calmer, slower space. These “Sensitive Santas” are in demand at Christmas for hospitals, very young children, children on the autism spectrum, and many others.

Santa America also connects local Santas and their companions with people who might need a visit from Santa Claus any time of the year: during a hospital stay, after major disasters, when a parent is deployed overseas. Part of their mission is to prove that Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and the elves never go off on vacation when children need them.

Gaining Background Knowledge Means Meeting Real Reindeer

Since kids are apt to ask Santa anything, it’s best that Santa draws his answers from real experience. What are the reindeer like? To find out, Santa students study reindeer habits and get to meet real reindeer.

How are toys made? The Santas spend quality time learning how to make wooden playthings.

The Santas also attend lectures about St. Nick’s backstory and the North Pole. “Know who you are,” Valent tells an assembly of Santas, according to CNN. “Know your legend. Know where you came from.”

They Have to Practice Their “Ho-Ho-Hos” and Their “Do-Re-Mis”
Despite being blind, this boy was able to see Santa during his visit.

Since each Santa must prepare for radio and TV interviews, much of Santa school focuses on teaching students how to craft an accurate and authentic persona. “For example, they’re advised to create a backstory for their ‘elves,’ pulling names and characteristics from kids and grandkids in their own circles,” Kathleen Lavey reported for the Lansing State Journal. It also means learning how to deliver a hearty but balanced Ho Ho Ho. “You have to do it mild,” Tom Valent explained. “It’s got to be a laugh.” (And to ensure the Santas are really in the Christmas spirit, they’re also taught how to sing with cheer.)

There’s More Dancing Involved Than You Might Think
From Santa’s Boot Camp, 2016

It’s not enough to nail the laugh. Being Santa requires you to be a full-body actor—and that means perfecting the big man’s jolly, bouncing swagger. The school is stuffed with movement lessons. “The school fitness teacher had them dance as if they were wrapping presents, baking cookies and filling stockings to classic Christmas tunes,” Christinne Muschi wrote for Reuters.

Santas also learn how to properly ease in and out of a sleigh and learn yoga and breathing exercises to keep limber. (It’s important work: Hoisting kids up and down from your lap for hours takes its toll.) As Tom Valent told CNN, “Santa is a healthy outdoorsman.”

Being Santa is not for the faint of heart or the faint of sinus. Pet photos with Santa are increasingly popular, often as part of a fundraiser. The Humane Society, Paws for a Cause, Sidewalk Dog, and many local animal shelters ask Santas to pose for photos with dogs, cats, hamsters, snakes, turtles, and any other pet they can safely hold. Better take that Benadryl!

They Receive Financial Advice
The cardboard versions are much cheaper!

At Santa school—which costs $550 for new students—they teach classes on marketing, accounting, and taxes. That’s because being a freelance Santa is not cheap. A Santa with a bare chin is advised to buy a custom beard and wig that can cost up to $1800. And while a generic suit costs about $500, a personalized one can run over $2000. Add to that $700 for a pair of authentic boots. And then grooming expenses. Oh, and makeup.

Santas Get Lessons in Grooming
I don’t think this Yugoslavian Santa was paying attention to the make-up lesson.

At school, Santas also learn how to curl their mustaches and groom their hair and beards (or wigs) to create a windblown I-just-got-out-of-the-sleigh look. They receive lessons in bleaching their hair to get a snow-white glisten as well as lessons in applying makeup.

 According to Lavey, teachers show other Santas all the insider secrets: “How to take the shine off their foreheads with powder, pink up their cheeks with rouge, and add stardust to their beards with hairspray that contains glitter.”

The big secret to making Santa’s beard smell magical? Peppermint oil.

Santa Day School

The Simpsons offer a reasonably priced alternative, but it is only open to two-dimensional Santas with three fingers.

For those who can’t—or won’t—spend three intensive days and nights in Midlands, Michigan, there are options! In-person schools around the country and online for DYIers.

In November, 2018, Business Insider did an article on Santa schools, particularly the finances involved. Here are several quotes from that article.

Santa Doug Eberhardt of the Northern Lights Santa Academy displaying a variety of historical Santa trends.

“There’s two kinds of Santas: There are professional Santas and there are guys in red suits,” Santa Rick, a former mediator and divorce arbiter who runs the Northern Lights Santa Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, told Vox. “And the difference for me is there are those who want to better themselves and learn and master the trade, and there are the others.” This Santa school also has classes for Mrs. Claus and elves.

“I’m very high-energy, so I tend to put on a little bit of a show: The Night Before Christmas, and caroling, and magic,” said Santa Jim Manning, who is the official Santa Claus for Boston’s tree lighting and has covered the Red Sox Christmas card.  “A lot of people think being Santa Claus means just showing up, sitting on the couch, and letting kids sit in your lap. But what I do is a lot more.” To the right, see Santa Jim jumping out of an airplane.

Fashion Santa of Toronto has a slightly different take on the traditional red suit and jolly belly.

Rick, of the Northern Lights Santa Academy, told Vox that high-end Santas can earn up to $25,000 a season, but the cost of travel, lodging, and garb can eat into the pay. A quality Santa costume and accessories costs at least $1,000 and a beard set made of human hair can range from $1,800 to $2,500, he said.”

Only the very bravest Santas are willing to risk turtle bites at the same time as dog fur on their suits.

“Santa Ed Taylor has been running the Santa Claus Conservatory, an online training program with more than 2,300 aspiring Santas, since 2013. The courses range from $97 to $347.”

The International University of Santa Claus

Not only does the IUSC offer courses around the world, they have a degree program recognizing a student’s years of dedication. A Santa or Mrs. Claus can earn a Doctorate of Santaclausology (PhD), with options for further advanced study.

Unfortunately, all 2020 International University of Santa Claus in-person classes have been cancelled. Online courses are available, so aspiring Santas can ask their grandkids for help logging in to Zoom classes!

Santa is a Super-Spreader

2020 is an atypical year. (You heard it here first!) And this is true for Santas and Santa schools as well. Dr. Fauci has assured the public that Santa Claus is naturally immune to COVID-19, but Santa can still spread the virus. Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost, Sinterklaas, and all other Christmas gift-bringers have been declared essential workers and therefore exempt from quarantine or isolation rules.

Santa Johnny of Hong Kong was proclaimed “Best Santa” at the 2019 World Santa Congress.

The 2020 World Santa Congress was cancelled. Many tree lighting ceremonies and holiday parties have been cancelled. Even the 2020 Santa Mediterranean Cruise has been indefinitely postponed.

Some Santas are adapting with smaller grottos, shorter visits, and lots of hand sanitizer. Others are setting up plexiglass barriers or arranging for children to stay more than six feet away. A few mall Santa Grottos are even setting up holographic Santas for photos.

However, possibly the safest option for Santa and for kids is to visit Santa digitally.

  • JingleRing will allow Santa and Mrs. Claus to speak to kids one-on-one with their very own North Pole TV platform.
  • AirBnB has created virtual visits with Santa as well as the opportunity to tune in to Story Time with Mrs. Claus or with Santa and a rotation of children’s book authors.
  • Macy’s Santaland has gone virtual this year, though there will be no real Santas in their stores. There are pre-recorded video messages from Santa Claus, games to play with the elves, and the option to sign up for a real-time video chat with Santa himself.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Awkward Family Photos for sharing the very best of the very worst photos with Santa Claus.

Bottom Line: There’s more to being a good Santa than putting on a red suit! Consider how Santas and Santa schools might broaden your cast of characters and/or plots.