The Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas

Thousands of miles from the North Pole, in Orange County, California, lies the headquarters of the jolliest Christmas-time organization in the world—the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas. All members, as the name states, must have real whiskers. For over 25 years, they have worked to enhance the image of Santa, away from the fake beards and vinyl boots to a more authentic and magical experience.

Each year in Southern California after Christmas, hundreds of these jolly gents gather for their annual reunion to discuss all things “Clausing”—from outfits and props to even Santa insurance (FORBS created the first Santa insurance in 2008, now a national standard). A naturally talented bunch, the Santas also put on a talent show, learn ukulele and just generally enjoy each other’s jovial company.

We sat down with Santa Ric Erwin, FORBS’s Chairman of the Board, to learn more about this wonderful organization.

How did the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas come about?

FORBS can trace its roots back to 1994, when ten professional actors responded to a casting call for a commercial requiring Santas with real beards. The shoot lasted 12 hours and they had so much fun that day, they decided to get together for lunch after the upcoming Christmas season, where they would regale one another with Tales From The Chair. The lunch was so successful that they decided to do it again the following year on the same day. This time, some of them brought a Santa friend. By the third year, there was 30 of them and it started to snowball after that, no pun intended. (laughs) Sorry, I can’t help it. I sleigh myself.

It began whimsically. But gradually it dawned on us that this is a profession. We can form a real business. Our fraternity is a 501(c)(7) which is recognized by the state of California as a mutual benefit voting member corporation and basically it's a professional fraternity. There are now national and regional FORBS conventions all over the country.

Why is it important for Santas to hang out with each other?

One of the main reasons we decided we needed a national fraternity is because there is a unique sacrifice that each of us makes—we decide to look like Santa all year long. There's nothing we can do about it. We go to Olive Garden. We go to 7-11. We get our tires rotated, all looking like Santa because of the beard. It's a bit of a commitment and we decided early on there should be some reward, some benefit to that sacrifice.

I will attempt incognito to the best of my ability. Dressing down. Avoiding red. Things like that. I will gather my beard in ponytail. My wife is the opposite. She will pay with her credit card that has Mrs. Claus on it. At Starbucks, she's Mrs. Claus.

Your wife is a Mrs. Claus?

My wife is THE best Mrs. Claus I have ever seen in my life. There are very few people in the Santa world who don't know Diva Claus. And there are even fewer people that know her real name.

Do a lot of Santas work with their spouses?

More than half of our members have spouses who work as a Mrs. Claus or an elf.

What are the best things about being Santa?

Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I become 10 feet tall and bulletproof. I can get out of a speeding ticket with a wink. I can literally walk into any room, any office building and someone will escort me anywhere I want to go.

What comes first—the beard or being Santa?

It says on the front of our recruiting card, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Santa Claus?"

I think it really starts though the day you realize that what had been the best paying part-time job in your life is now one of the best things about your life. From that day on, you're Santa.