Santa Wars: The Not-So-Merry Face-Off Between Dueling Santa Claus Unions

VladOrlov/iStock via Getty Images
VladOrlov/iStock via Getty Images

The Santa-on-Santa violence first erupted in January 2008. That’s when Santa Claus performer Santa Ric Erwin crashed a meeting of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, or AORBS, a nonprofit union dedicated to furthering the interests of Santas on the West Coast, advising them on everything from costumes to bookings.

Erwin was an AORBS member, though one on thin ice owing to personality clashes with new president and fellow Santa Nicholas Trolli. During the meeting at Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel in Buena Park, California, Jeff Germann—Trolli’s second-Santa-in-command—stepped in front of Erwin, who was attempting to videotape the meeting for Santas who couldn’t make it. Declaring Erwin an uninvited guest, Germann allegedly used his elbow to push Erwin up against the wall. (Trolli would later state Erwin was the aggressor.) Security escorted Erwin out.

Such is the life of professional Santa Clauses, who have seen their ranks rise in recent years with accompanying trade unions that ostensibly seek to provide benefits but can sometimes wind up butting beards over policies and conduct. To fraternize with other Santas can sometimes mean choosing sides.

Santas United

It’s believed the very first Santa union was formed in 1937, when department store Santas organized the Benevolent Order of Santa Claus. The group wanted to perpetuate a strong image of genteel Santas for store appearances, which were then the biggest opportunities for performers. Not long after, in 1941, Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor set up guidelines for a universal Santa “look," including a bulbous red nose and beard. By having consistency, kids wouldn’t be needlessly confused by Santas who opted for different clothing or trimmed whiskers.

The Santas, now uniform in appearance, were looking to organize. In 1969, another group, the Brotherhood of Father Christmas and Santa Claus, filed paperwork to be recognized as a union working for the rights of both Santas and elves in the UK, though there’s no evidence it endured for long. It wasn’t until Santa Tom Hartsfield created the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas in 1995 that a Santa faction emerged as a powerful and influential assembly.

A man dressed as Santa Claus is pictured holding up a bag of gifts
fotohunter/iStock via Getty Images

Hartsfield struck upon the idea for AORBS after being part of a commercial for the Otto Versand (later renamed the Otto Group) mail-order company. Paired with nine other Santas for the shoot, Hartsfield realized there was an opportunity for performers to have representation that could assist them in everything from grooming tips to bookings. AORBS caught on, and by 2003, more than 700 Santas were arriving at meetings.

A slightly overwhelmed Hartsfield received help in the form of Santa Tim Connaghan, who took over as the union’s coordinator and shortly became president. (It should be noted that most unionized Santas prefer to be addressed as “Santa” along with their first name as a show of respect.) Connaghan organized Santa meet-ups and helped AORBS become a full-fledged nonprofit by 2007—one with more than 700 members paying $20 annually.

But not everyone felt Connaghan was doing right by the Santas. According to a 2013 exposé in OC Weekly, new board of directors member Santa Nicholas Trolli voiced complaints that Connaghan had a conflict of interest because he also ran a Santa Claus booking agency and had a company, Kringle Group, of his own. Connaghan had even signed a movie deal that would cover the events of the 2006 AORBS convention along with his own life story. Members believed Connaghan was looking to profit at the expense of the union; Connaghan maintained AORBS would have profited if the movie had ever been made.

The Kringles Crumble

A Claus coup ensued. To avoid Santa dissent, Connaghan agreed to step down as president. Quickly, Trolli stepped in as his replacement. With his lieutenant, Santa Jeff Germann, Trolli took the proverbial reins, dismissing Hartsfield as director and forging AORBS Inc. as a company in Kentucky with himself and Germann as officers. The move left Santa Ric Erwin concerned about Trolli's motivations. The Knott's Berry Farm fracas ensued, and the sniping continued on Elf Net and other Santa discussion boards, with members lobbing virtual insults at one another. Soon, Santas who had grown tired of the drama began looking for alternative organizations.

A man dressed as Santa Claus is pictured reading a piece of paper
Tijana87/iStock via Getty Images

Eventually, AORBS Inc. was the subject of complaints of improper accounting, and Pennsylvania's Charitable Organizations Bureau (where the organization was now based) handed down a cease-and-desist order in July 2008, charging them with soliciting unregistered charitable contributions.

AORBS soon dissolved, and the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, or FORBS, arrived in its wake. Founded by Erwin and other disgruntled AORBS members in 2008 and based in California, FORBS conducts background checks for more than 400 Santas in the union, carries insurance for any mishaps related to personal appearances, and mandates that members maintain real beards. The same holds true for the other major Santa union, the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, or IBRBS, which represents Santas on a global scale.

Let There Be Peace

Much of the Santa sniping has fallen by the wayside, though the edict that Santas have a real beard sometimes invites controversy. Connaghan, who founded the International University of Santa Claus, believes a Santa with an itchy fake beard fails to preserve the illusion; others think ostracizing those lacking a lush beard might be discriminatory.

There are no easy answers. For now, Santas at local stores and booked for personal appearances have the option of union backing. And yes, both elves and Mrs. Clauses are eligible for associate membership.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Calm on the Fourth of July

iStock/Getty Images Plus/melissabrock1
iStock/Getty Images Plus/melissabrock1

The Fourth of July can be rough for dogs. Fireworks displays light up their senses with unfamiliar noises, flashes, and smells, and parties flood their homes with strange guests who may invade the rooms they usually have as private retreats. And when distressed dogs escape, howl, or thrash around the house, Independence Day can quickly become a nightmare for their owners, too. To minimize Fido's stress this holiday, we spoke to some dog experts to discover the best ways to keep your canine calm on the Fourth of July.

1. Exercise Your Dog

Anthony Newman, the dog whisperer who runs New York City's Calm Energy Dog Training, says that exercise is a great way to help your dog let off some nervous energy. "Whenever Fido is going to be neglected for an extended period of time, or around any stressful stimuli, it always helps to tire him out just before—and even during the night if you can," Newman says. "As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog! He'll be calmer, happier, and more peaceful."

2. Keep Your Dog Indoors

Dr. Stephanie Liff, head veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care, says the best place to keep your pet during a fireworks show is inside and away from the windows. "If the pet is very scared, an escape-proof crate or a sound-insulated room, such as an internal bathroom, may help the pet to feel more secure," Liff tells Mental Floss. "If you cannot keep your pet inside, make sure that the pet is prevented from escape (monitor all exits and tell guests to monitor your pet)."

3. Socialize Your Dog

While your dog may feel more secure in a room away from all the noise, Newman points out that keeping your dog isolated in another room for too long can be stressful for your pet. "Release his curiosity and let him in on the fun, to run around and play with both two-legged as well as four-legged guests," Newman says. "Then back to his obedient room, bed, car, crate, or spot. Rinse and repeat as needed throughout the night."

4. Take Control of Your Dog

According to Newman, the best way to keep your dog calm during the chaos of July 4th is to stay in charge. "If your dog winces, shivers, and runs away at loud noises, the last thing he wants is to feel like nobody else is looking out for him," Newman says. Don't let your dog run rampant around the house or follow him around trying to soothe him. Instead, Newman says it's important to "take control by attaching a super-light leash that you can grab and lead him whenever you need."

5. Explore Medicating Your Dog

In extreme cases of nervousness, Liff says that you should talk to your vet about medication to sedate your dog.