'Insight': Who are the Santas of Estonia?

Santa Claus and Ded Moroz.
Santa Claus and Ded Moroz. Source: Sergei Stepanov/ERR

Santa Claus is a mysterious man to say the least. Although we are not aware who it really is behind the beard, we await the man every year. ETV+ show "Insight" looked into who the people behind the beard are and how their personal style affects their portrayal of the legendary character.

There is even a union for the bearded gift-givers of Estonia - the Estonian Association of Santas, "Insight" reported. The unusual movement was kicked off in 2001, when a group of enthusiastic Santas in Tartu decided to use the union to communicate with local officials. In order to get permits for public performances, they needed official registration.

"We founded the Tartu Association of Santas, but other Santas joined us soon. They came from all corners of Estonia, which is why we renamed our organization the Estonian Association of Santas," said association board member Raul Kivi.

ETV+ reporter Aleksandra Grünvald spoke to Kivi and said the man could be considered a professional actor, but he is actually the owner of a law office, who gets into character around the holidays. He refuses to take off his beard in front of other people, saying that other people finding out the true identity of Santa Claus is the worst possible thing that could happen.

Learning to become the hero of Christmas takes years. The modern Santa Claus must not only be the bearer of gifts, but also a psychologist, an actor and linguist. Children are different and require different approaches - some must be helped with their shyness, others need to be called to order.

"We had a child psychologist come talk to us about how to deal with children. We have had actors and stage professionals to teach us the volumes we can talk to children without them being frightened," Kivi said.

Santa Claus visited members of the Riigikogu on December 16, 2021. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Expensive and luxurious

A real Santa Claus orders their costume from a designer and pricing can go up to the thousands. Wigs and beards of the highest quality are made after individual dimensions and are made of real wool. The look often costs more than the men bring in.

"It is completely possible that you will not earn back your investment in one season. You do not get too rich in this business," Kivi said.

Santas can make €5,000 one season and a few hundred the next. But filling your own pockets through children is not the priority. Kivi said the most important thing is that children believe in Santas, which is why the bearded men have identification and licenses.

They make their own sleighs, which come in all shapes and sizes. Kivi, for example, drives a Christmas-Lada, he also made himself a mobile sleigh from a regular plow.

Santa Claus in Tagatalu. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

A Santa riding a motorcycle covered in skulls

A real Santa Claus does not have to be bound to an association, however. There is an unique Santa in Estonia's eastern border city Narva, who has operated for more than 20 years. The white beard is often seen riding a motorcycle decorated with skulls.

Andrei Mistjurin became a Santa Claus in the end of the 1990s. While working at the Narva rehabilitation clinic, he saw how people send Narva residents gifts from countries far away. He was once told to don a costume and go distribute gifts to kids. It has been more than 20 years, but Mistjurin still carries a bag.

"For children, the look is not the most important thing, the attitude is. They sense it, which is why you need to be open and honest with them," the Santa said.

The man has also made music and art, has worked as a DJ and has traveled half the world. He is a sight to behold in Narva, riding his skull-covered motorcycle. Collecting skulls is a long-time hobby for the man, which is why there are thousands of them on his ride.

"Skulls protect you from injuries in traffic. I have even seen skulls on small scooters. It is an amulet," Mistjurin said.

The Santa is known in most stores and free gifts are occasionally provided. If his bag is not empty by the end of the day, there will be a toy tree somewhere in the city. Mistjurin loves Narva and his dog, who has taken on the role of a reindeer and elf over the years.

Unlike his master, Miša does not enjoy being dressed up, however. "He is a nudist. He does not wear anything, because he does not understand the point of clothing - he has got his own coat," Mistjurin said.

Santa Clauses at Tallinn Zoo. Source: Tallinn Zoo

A black SUV can also work

Santa Claus can not only evoke laughter, but also fear. Several parents in Narva were frightened last year when a black SUV pulled up to a bus station and handed children candy while a deep male voice said: "Here, girl, take a gift!"

"Some were scared because I drove an SUV and it was dark, but when I said I have gifts, the fear dissolved," said Veniamin Ivanov, who considers himself a novice Santa. Last year, he bought some 200 boxes of candy and went out to spread some cheer, but children were not too eager to accept gifts since the young man did not have a beard nor a red coat.

The beginner was saved by a retro Christmas bus driving around town that day. "I looked around and saw that there was a young man driving a car and handing out gifts behind us," said the Santa Claus driving the Christmas bus.

Ivanov did not know that the bus was not allowed to make stops due to coronavirus restrictions and Santa Claus himself could not see the children. Ivanov unintentionally became an elf in the Narva Christmas economy and said he enjoyed it so much, he will definitely go out again this year. The route will initially be kept a secret, but he promised to be smarter this year and acquire a red coat.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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