Friday, July 11, 2008

Here Comes Santa Clauses....

It may come as a surprise to those who never reads it, but there's almost always something fun in the Wall Street Journal, and yesterday was no exception, with a "Christmas in July" gift from Jim Carlton in the form of an article on the Amalgamated Order of Real-Bearded Santas. (I think that the WSJ content is only available to subscribers; the Amalgamated site is, of course, free.)

If you live in Kansas City, Santa Claus and Santa Claus and Santa Claus and Santa Claus, are coming to town this weekend for the Amalgamated Order's convention.

But it's not going to be all that ho-ho-ho,

The Amalgamated Santas, one of the nation's largest Santa groups, are dealing with a schism in their ranks. The rift has left burly bearded men accusing one another of bylaw violations, profiteering and behaving in un-Santa-like ways. Some Santas have filed complaints of wrongdoing against others in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.


The rift started with a not so jolly power struggle, and, as a result there are now splinter groups, including the Fraternal Order of Real-Bearded Santas, who have thrown their weight behind the Celebrate Santa Convention, which will be held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee next March (over St. Patrick's Day, no less), and will be the:

...largest gathering of Santas, Mrs. Clauses, Elves, Reindeer Owners and Christmas folk to ever assemble under one roof, let alone in one town!

Celebrate Santa (which has been around since 1939) is trying to stay above the political fray:

While we are members of Claus Net, I.O.S, F.I.R.B.Santas, S.A.T.G., and Honoree member of Mystic Order of Traditional Santas, NONE OF THESE OR ANY OTHER ORGANIZATION has any claim or influence over Celebrate Santa. We respect and admire all organizations but as individuals, we are inviting other individuals regardless of their current, past or future associations. We only ask they do not wave their association credentials to other attendees while in Gatlinburg. We are here to learn and have fun, not to hear political or social agendas.

I wonder if this is a veiled, or rather bearded, reference to the Amalgamated Group?

Amalgamated started out in the mid-nineties, when 10 Santas found themselves together shooting a commercial. What they had in common was that they had real beards - not the cheesy clip on ones that "disguise" youngsters (and even, yikes, women).

By 2003, Amalgamated had 100 members, and the Santas tapped a new St. Nick, Tim Connaghan, to run the group. (Among other things, Connaghan is an academic of sorts, since he runs the International University of Santa Claus. Warning: Charlie Brown Christmas theme is playing there.)

Under Connaghan, Amalgamated's roles grew to 300, and held a convention in Branson, Mo.

But there was a lump of coal in the organization's metaphorical stocking.

Connaghan got into with Nick Trolli, the Santa in charge of the 2008 Kansas City convention.

One thing led to another, and - on Dasher, on Dancer - soon there was more flying than sleighs through the December night.

Connaghan was accused of conflict of interest for doing bookings for Santas. Then Connaghan:

...disclosed that he had signed a contract with a Hollywood production company for a possible movie on a Santa convention. Mr. Connaghan acknowledged he stood to retain as much as $25,000 as the film's consultant, but said the group would also get up to $50,000. Some Santas said he was personally profiting as head of the organization.

Connaghan resigned, and Trolli succeeded him.

The lines were drawn, Santas took sides, and - with trash talk flying around on the Amalgamated chat group (Elf Net) - every Santa could see (and comment on) who was being naughty and nice.

Then things got even naughtier: a shoving match; withdrawal of a URL; threats to take it to the FBI; involvement by the Kentucky AG's office; charges in Pennsylvania about unregistered solicitation of charitable donations; Trolli's claiming that his family has been threatened by rogue Santas....

Once you know that there are hundreds of Santas out there, it becomes somewhat predictable that Connaghan is throwing his bowl full of jelly into the Red Suit Society, which is the alumni association of Santa U.

And then there's the World Santa Claus Congress, coming up in another week or so in Copenhagen...

Who knew?

Although the department store Santa I had my one and only picture taken with (along with my sister Kathleen and brother Tom) looked like the real deal (if the beard was fake it was a decent one), most of the Santas of my childhood were the exact opposite of the Real Bearders.

In first grade, Kathy Shea's mother came by and gave out little mesh bags full of hard candies. As I recall, her beard looked like a roll of cotton batting.  And I'm pretty sure we all knew it was Mrs. Shea.

A year later, friend and neighbor Jack McGinn came by our house on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa. Even I knew that Santa wasn't a beanpole with a Worcester accent - let alone a beard that was even worse than Mrs. Shea's.

"That Santa is a fake," I screamed. "It's Mr. McGinn!"

Well, that was it for me and Santa.

Maybe if a member of the Red Suit Society, or the Amalgamated Order of Real-Beard Santas, or the Fraternal Order, or any of the other authentic Santas, had swung by our house that fateful Christmas Eve, rather than Jack McGinn, I might have been a believer for a little while longer.



Mary Schmidt said...

Hmmm...wonder what the Easter Bunnies are up to? Thanks for a laugh. You just can't make up stuff this good.

Montana's Santa said...
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katrog said...

Ditto Mary Schmidt--you can't make this stuff up.

Like you can't make up the "keyword" I have to type in to post this: it is "suckkadk"--ooh, wonder if Santa would think this is naughty or nice.


Maureen Rogers said...

Montana's Santa - Thanks for the info on the date. The Celebrate Santa logo had the dates 1939 and 2009 on it, so I assumed it was founded in 1939. I have been in businesses that were political and strife ridden, and that's no fun - I'm sure it's even worse when it happens in a voluntary organization where, presumably, people would be on the same wavelength.

Mary and Kath - You are both so right - there's always something in the news, isn't there. (And to Kath: I'd have thought these secret keyword code generators would have forbidden letter combinations, wouldn't you? Just like states have for license plates...

Maureen Rogers said...

Thanks to Montana Santa, I now know that while there was a "Celebrate Santa" event in 1939, it has not been continuous since then. A group of Santas is trying to get beyond the bad feelings, etc. by rekindling (rekringling?) this event.

Also want to mention that, in e-mailing Montana Santa, I wrote my first letter to Santa.

Anonymous said...

Celebrate Santa 2009 will mark the 70th Anniversary of the very first
ever Santa Convention ever held.

Founded on December 18, 1937, the Benevolent Order of Santa Claus was
organized in New York to promote a positive image of Santa through
out department stores in the United States. The group grew from a
handful of men, including Charles W. Howard, to more than forty
members by 1939. In November 1939, the "Order" held their, and the
world's first, ever Santa Claus Convention at the Hotel St. George in
New York, City.

The research on this comes from the miroc-film of Charles W. Howard's
personal scrapbooks (which there are only three copies)and newspaper
clipping I collected.

So the number 1939 marks the first ever offical conventions of Santas
and 2009 marks the 70 years. There were other gatherings or
conventions in 1949, 1956 and 1986. We have also reseached a great
history of Santa groups dating from 1937 to 1966, and the rebirth of
local Santa groups in the late 1970's into the early 1990's.

Note: The Celebrate Santa Blog has a picture of 1939 convention. See entrees of 4-21-08 and 6-23-08

Phillip L. Wenz

Maureen Rogers said...

Phillip - Thanks so much for this info, and for further clarifying my date confusion. If the St. George Hotel you mentioned was in Brooklyn, my sister Trish used to live across the street. She'll get a kick out of the Santa Convention being held there.

Singin' Santa said...
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Anonymous said...

The St. George Hotel was in Brooklyn Heights, NY and was torn down around 1995ish

Phillip L. Wenz

Anonymous said...

Ms. Rogers,
Montana Santa Posted this:Most of us are heartbroken by the fact two men managed to destroy a wonderful organization and hold all of us up to ridicule.
I say it isn't two men but several men,from other postings I've read, some of which have posted here. They keep the finger pointing and name calling going. The World, in general, has suffered because of these people and tarnished the Icon of Santa.If they are not members of AORBS let it drop.If wrong doing has been done there are courts for that but these people want to control public opinion through the internet using every media means possible to point a finger. They should try pointing the finger at themselves. If they aren't part of the solution to help end this, then they are part of the problem.

Brian Connaghan said...

Hey, don't forget that the Easter Bunnies had that problem with Irontail many years ago. As for these Santas, it is sad that this has happened. Soon though, they maybe separating themselves by who really has a belly "like a bowl full of jelly" and who doesn't.

Anonymous said...

They already do segregate themselves by real beard or faux beards. This whole story is a disaster of untruths from both sides of the Santa war.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maureen Rogers said...

I've removed a few comments here.

Now Santas: you may have issues with your fellow St. Nicks, but be NICE. (He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you've been commenting on blogs....)

Maureen Rogers said...

Okay - I've now taken down a comment placed by Montana Santa, because I have no desire to get caught in a 10,000 way pissing match with a bunch of Santas - real beard of otherwise, who are now pulling torts out of their sacks, rather than MaMa dolls and ChooChoo trains. But I do want to give Montana some of his say:

Some of your information regarding the Santa Strife is accurate, but Celebrate Santa was only started this year (not 1939) so former AORBS members could congregate in brotherhood...
Most of us are heartbroken by the fact two men managed to destroy a wonderful organization and hold all of us up to ridicule.

If you want the real story, feel free to seek out any hardworking, trained and educated real bearded Santa and ask for the full story. As former State Director of AORBS and the national convention public relations coordinator, I am available at
I welcome your questions.

Guess it's going to take a Miracle on 34th Street to calm this situation down. said... had to step up their efforts because of this news. The site is now online.

By the way, you will find this "montana santa" in the files at

Dev said...

If you ever get a chance to go to Branson, you should check out some of their Branson shows! They have plenty around the holiday season too.

Anonymous said...

The hotel was not torn down and still stands. Only one portion was destroyed in 1995 but rebuilt to look like the original Clark Building.

Anonymous said...

NICK TROLI IS SCUM! and if I ever hear of another negative word out of your mouth about Santa Milt Cottrell.... I will find you myself and fix your tone!

Anonymous said...

As having actually been contracted by Nick Trolli representing himself as the President of AORBS for a Colorado Event in the past, I can tell you that Mr. Trolli used AORBS for his own means. My company was never a member of any Santa Fraternity. What I know of Mr. Connaghan is that he had many business deals in the works prior to accepting the position of President of AORBS. Mr. Trolli attempted to stain Mr. Connaghan's reputation regarding those private business dealings to successfully gain controlling interest in AORBS. Mr. Trolli also breached agreements with my company and did not resolve issues until threatened with litigation. What ensued after Mr. Trolli was exposed, would make a FABULOUS screenplay that someone should really write.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, by the way, SantaCheck is owned by Nick Trolli. It's his attempt to stain the career of another. He's a vicious man that will burn in Hell.