LIMA — Jeff Jacomet is the Christmas equivalent of a superhero — police officer by day, and bearded magic man by night.
His superhero alias? Santa Claus.
Jacomet is just one of the many men who don the red suit and wig every December. Some do it to spread the magic of Christmas, but many have expanded the annual responsibility into a side-gig able to pad their incomes with a few extra thousand dollars every year.
Jacomet prefers pro bono work. He doesn’t charge for his services, but he keeps coming back every time he’s asked because he enjoys spreading holiday cheer.
“It started out maybe eight to nine years ago, just a couple guys at the police department, I went to their family homes. It progressed from there,” Jacomet said.
Now Jacomet attends a few events a year as the Christmas elf. This December, he acted on the main stage Santa at the Downtown Lima Holiday Festival. He’s also worked as Santa at The Met and at the Fraternal Order of Police’s Christmas celebration.
“I’ve had kids at the Met tell me I’m the real one. They’ve seen the fake ones, but I’m the real one,” Jacomet said.
Jacomet has a few techniques to sell himself as the main man who lives at the North Pole. He brings with him a “special” key to deflect children’s questions about how such a large person can fit down a chimney, preferring to sneak through the front door instead of making the trip down the ashy chute.
The whole masquerade requires him to think on his feet quickly, he said — a skill he’s acquired after more than one grand jury grilling. Outside of Santa Clausing, Jacomet has worked as a police officer with the Lima Police Department for close to three decades, which requires him to be clean shaven throughout the year.
“If I could grow my own, it would be fairly close,” Jacomet said. “If you want to call my chief, I’m all for it.”
For those looking to charge, however, growing a real beard to complement a custom suit is a good start, and it will help one gain access to the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas — just one of the primary Santa Claus associations in the United States.
IBRBS offers a few benefits for an entrepreneurial Kris Kringle. Liability insurance and a background check is a must for any professional Claus, and those looking to climb the ranks can also attend any number of “Santa schools,” which teach the basics of business, marketing as well as the ins-and-outs of successful Clausing.
Ohio’s chapter of the IBRBS, the Heart of Ohio Santas, was organized in 2017 by Tim Etienne (or Santa Timothy) after he sort of fell into the role due to his wife, Ginny Etienne, who portrayed Mrs. Claus (or Mrs. Sandra Claus) professionally for about four years prior to him taking up the mantle.
“I found something in me that I didn’t know was there,” Etienne said.
Etienne now helps organizes Kings Island’s WinterFest and portrays Santa Claus for the event.
As for his style, Etienne said he aims to be a mischievous Santa, joking around and working to read the room to find out how he can make the scene memorable and magical. His background in special education helps him connect with the children and make them feel welcoming when they meet him.
“You’re there to make it magical,” Etienne said. “We’re doing something that affects not only (the children), but also their future memories.”
Now a few years into the business, Etienne gets roughly 70 calls for jobs he turns down because of his already full schedule.
A role for Mrs. Claus
Part of Etienne’s draw can also be traced to his wife’s portrayal of Mrs. Claus.
The industry has been slower to adopt Mrs. Claus as a Christmas character. IBRBS extended member voting rights to Mrs. Clauses just five years ago, and the first Mrs. Claus school in the nation was hosted just this past August in Columbus.
Etienne said the rise of Mrs. Claus is a major opportunity for entrepreneurial women as the image and role of Santa Claus’s wife is ill-defined when compared to St. Nick. That means Mrs. Claus can host just about any Christmas event — from cooking tutorials to storytelling — as long as it aligns with a wifely role.
“When you have a strong Mrs. Claus, you don’t want her to be shunned,” Etienne said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.