Dressed in T-shirts and drinking beers and Cokes, the exhausted men gathered at an Italian restaurant in Rio de Janeiro to ditch their beards after a hard season of temporary work at shopping malls and hospitals.
The 30-odd men were graduates of the Rio Santa Claus School, which trains aspiring Saint Nicks looking to make some extra cash as Brazil struggles through a deep recession.
Scarfing down plates of spaghetti, the Santas sang some final Christmas carols as bemused passersby looked on.
“They’re getting their strength up by eating some pasta before heading back to the North Pole,” joked the school’s director, Limachen Cherem.
The academy, which Cherem founded 22 years ago, has trained 400 Santas with free classes in singing, theater, diction, body language, gymnastics and make-up.
The Santas, who can earn upwards of $3,500 in 40 days, then give a percentage of their earnings back to the school.
There are no fake beards or pillows stuffed down the shirtfront here: Cherem’s Santas look the part, bushy white beard and all — though in multi-racial Brazil, they come in all kinds of colors.
“It’s beautiful working with children from different races and classes. What’s great about kids is that race is never an issue. They ask me why I’m black, and I tell them it’s from going down so many chimneys,” laughed Aylton Lafayette Grimaldi, 68, who has been finding jobs through the Santa school for 11 years.