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Some Santas are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. And then there are those happy fellows who have taken a week-long class in all things Father Christmas, and come out the other side with a coveted B.S.C. degree (Bachelor of Santa Claus).
Such was the fate of those who, for years, chose to take instruction at Charles Howard’s Santa Claus School in the upstate New York town of Albion, not far from Rochester. In fact, the school still exists today, 75 years after it was founded by Howard in 1937; since the mid-1960s, it has operated out of Midland, Mich., and remains the world’s oldest Santa school.
In 1961, LIFE’s Alfred Eisenstaedt visited Howard’s school for would-be Santas, and made a series of photos chronicling the evidently quite fun process of learning to be all the Santa Claus one can be. (Many of the pictures here were not originally published in the article that ran in LIFE.) In its Nov. 17, 1961, issue, LIFE shared the lighthearted goings-on at the school with its readers:
Finally, we’ll end with one of Howard’s more memorable quotes about St. Nick, and the power of belief in an age of doubt: “To say there is no Santa Claus is the most erroneous statement in the world. Santa Claus is a thought that is passed from generation to generation. After time this thought takes on a human form. Maybe if all children and adults understand the symbolism of this thought we can actually attain Peace on Earth and good will to men everywhere.”