GATLINBURG, Tennessee — It wasn't by Christmas magic that Jersusalem's only Santa Claus found himself shuffling through homemade reindeer harnesses and buckled boots at the Gatlinburg Convention Center. 

"I am the only official Santa in The Holy Land, who has a diploma to do it," Issa Kassissieh said. "I've been in many schools in the states. This is how I know everything they do." 

Jerusalem Santa
Jerusal

A professional basketball player for 25 years, Kassissieh is one of many whose calling to become Santa Claus brought him to The Santa Family Reunion in Gatlinburg. 

"There's Christians, Jews, Muslims," he said. "I respect everybody and everybody comes to see me."

For the last ten years, a multitude of Kris Kringles - mall Santas, Kentuckiana Santas, hospice Santas, volunteer Santas, Coca-Cola commercial Santas - have gathered here to hone their craft. 

"The figure of Santa Claus is the most recognized figure in the world," said professional Santa Claus Jerry Owens. "When you take on the persona...no matter where you go..your face still represents the figure of Santa. It's important that we understand you don't get rid of the persona when you take off the suit."

Santa
Jerry Owens says being Santa Claus is a privilege and an honor.
Madison Stacey

That's why the convention isn't just a celebration of St. Nick or a chance for vendors to sell their holiday wares. From March 14 -18, these Santas can take workshops that help them specialize in skills they could only learn up at the North Pole; things like puppeteering, sign language, or even media relations.

Representing the world's jolliest figure isn't always simple.  There's a special code of ethics these guys abide by to keep the magic alive. 

"I haven't been in a mall during Christmas in years," Owens said. "Because if I show up looking like I do, it causes confusion as to who is the real Santa. We respect each other's right to be Santa."

While kids at the mall get a bad rap for being naughty or spoiled during Christmastime, the guys who listen to those gift requests firsthand say they often transcend the material. 

"It's hardly ever about gifts with them," said a Santa named Jumbo. "It's amazing what you'll hear when you're Santa, how they trust you."

Though the workshops at the Santa Family Reunion Convention empower the Santas with a variety of skill-sets, they say the most valuable stuff they learn comes from speaking with other Santas. 

The Santas tend to spend time regaling funny stories from their time in the suit. 

"I'm talking to a little girl," said Jumbo. "Got to the big question,'What do you want for Christmas?' She says, 'I want a Bud Light beer." Then her moms laughing and she says, 'Santa...she said a Buzz Lightyear.'" 

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It's in this way that the convention in Gatlinburg works to foster holiday magic and spread it out into the world. Because the responsibility of becoming a figure who physically embodies joy is a tall order.  

For the many Santas who gathered in Gatlinburg, becoming Santa Claus isn't a cute hobby or reason to party with their friends in the Smokies every spring. 

"I was called to do this," Jumbo said. "This is why I was put here. I believe that." 

The Santa Family Reunion continues with a parade that starts Saturday, March 16 at 10:00 PM in downtown Gatlinburg.