WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTOS | CHARLES W. HOWARD SANTA CLAUS SCHOOL
Mrs. Claus, also known as Holly Valent, was born on December 22nd. Growing up, she had always hated her first name because she thought it was boring. Who knew she would grow up to marry Santa Claus? Seems to me it worked out perfectly.
How it Started
Charles Howard opened the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School – the oldest continuously run Santa school in the world – in 1937 in Albion, New York. Howard was an actor and teacher and the first to portray Santa in the annual Macy’s Day Parade. He also served as technical director for the movie Miracle on 34th Street and founded a little Christmas park, complete with a train, deer, and a candy shop. As a kid, Holly Valent had the joy of visiting the park a couple of times and adored it.
Later in life, she met and married her husband, Tom Valent. When they were expecting their first child, Tom had a sudden desire to go to Santa Claus school. He learned of a school in Bay City but was a few days late for enrollment, so settled instead for a Santa suit specially made by Holly. He waited until the next year to apply, and this time he was in!
Little did the Valents know that this was the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, which the dean of students had moved from New York to Bay City after Howard died in 1966. Tom was a natural Santa, and Holly the perfect Mrs. Claus. They became very involved with the school, and, in 1987, Tom became its third dean of students. Tom and Holly moved the school to Midland, and the rest is history.
In their first year, the Valents had four students, maintaining the average for prior years. But then enrollment started to grow, and suddenly they were up to 60 students, then 100, then 200. This year, enrollment stands at 250. The Valents have made the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School into the world’s most famous of its kind. People from every state in the Union and countries as far away as Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and Switzerland have attended.
The Valents have made it their mission to keep the school from becoming too commercial. In doing so, Holly says they attract the most amazing, authentic people — both men and women — from bakers and doctors to lawyers, professors, and accountants. Ninety-five percent of the students are attending to learn how to be Santa for the fun of it, because they just want to go out and make people smile. The school boasts four Disney World Santas over the years, which Holly says is the pinnacle of a Santa career.
The school is all-encompassing. Nothing is overlooked when learning to be a Santa with the Valents. In three days, they teach everything there is to know about being Santa, bringing in experts to help with things like grooming – even a wig master from Louisville, Kentucky. The curriculum covers everything from storytelling to American Sign Language to making old-fashioned wooden toys to getting up-close and personal with real reindeer to learn about their behavior. Students also go on field trips to the Polar Express and Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, and, of course, take a real-life sleigh ride. Santa School culminates with a special graduation celebration where every Santa receives a diploma.
Christmas is in good hands with people like the Valents, who make sure to fill the world with loving and compassionate Santas year after year. Maybe Charles W. Howard himself said it best, “He errs who thinks Santa enters through the chimney. Santa enters through the heart.” Charles W. Howard, 1937
Charles W. Howard Santa School 2408 Pinehurst Court, Midland MI 48640 l SantaClausSchool.com