I didn’t grow up celebrating the holidays with Santa, but attending the 2016 Discover Santa convention more than made up for lost years. In celebration of Coca-Cola’s role in shaping the contemporary image of Santa, I journeyed to Branson, Mo. earlier this month to join more than 800 Santas and Mrs. Clauses. Here's a shot of me being photographed by two of my jolly new friends: 

During my time in Branson, I made (and heard about) some rookie mistakes so you don't have to. You're welcome. 

Come in a Proper Sleigh

In retrospect, my cab ride into Branson lacked necessary flair. I arrived at a parking lot filled with sleighs – cars and trailers decked out in Christmas cheer. License plates read, “UBGOOD,” “SANTA C,” “KRINGLE” and “FAT DAD”, while bumper stickers proudly declared “Graduate Student of NASA: National Aeronautical Sleigh Academy” and “Nice & Naughty Inspector On Board.” Santas should always travel in Santa-style.

Keep Two Hands Showing for All Photographs

Santas learn in Santa school (yes, since 1937 there have been schools for Santas) that it is always important for both of Santa’s hands to be visible in photographs – especially with children. Santas intentions (and his hands) must always be perfectly clear and pure.    

Don’t Ask for 'Real' Names

It’s a Santa Convention, so assume everyone wants to be known as Mr. or Mrs. Claus. Besides, in a room full of jolly-faced bearded men wearing Santa clothes, it’s hard enough trying to keep track of who’s who without recalling names. As one Santa put it, “You can call everyone Santa and you’re correct!”

Talk in the Third Person

Santa refers to himself as Santa. “Santa is very happy to see you today. What would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?” Such language is a humbling reminder that being Santa is about something much bigger than personal ego.

Don’t Say Costume

Santas wear clothing, not costumes. This isn’t dress-up.

Prepare for the Weather

When Santa is not in the North Pole, he gets hot. When in Missouri during the summer, he gets really hot. A traveling Santa’s wardrobe is incomplete without a variety of breathable Hawaiian shirts – “naturally Santa attire” as it’s known. If Santa needs to wear his hefty red suit in the steamy outdoors, then he should come ready with cooling packs to wear underneath.

Bring Your Mustache Curler

Santa should always be jolly, and his grins are incomplete without a statement-mustache to frame his face. Curling the mustache upwards accentuates Santa’s smile, reinforcing his cheery disposition.

Make the Nice List

Being Santa is an honor. Behave accordingly! As one Santa told me, “I really, truly believe that if I ever broke the traditions of Saint Nicholas or the spirit of Christmas, my beard would probably fall out.” Don’t take the risk. Be nice.

Don’t Make Specific Promises

Not all kids come from families with the same resources. No child should feel less loved because they cannot get the extravagant gifts Santa promised.

Let the Little Ones Know They Are Loved

It’s not all smiles with Santa. Children often feel comfortable telling the omnipotent Santa about challenges they may be having at home. While Santa cannot fix the problems a child may face, his primary job is to remind children that they are on the nice list and that people out there love them.

Hannah Nemer is a summer intern at The Coca-Cola Company