In July, 300 “real-bearded” Santas (along with about 200 Mrs. Clauses) convened at the Radisson Hotel in Branson, Mo., to participate in Discover Santa — the first-ever Santa Claus convention. Those with fake beards need not apply.

“This is not just a get-together, this is a real convention,” says Tim Connaghan, a Santa himself who retired two years ago as director of sales and marketing at Tog Hotel Properties, Santa Ana, Calif., to run the 1,300 member association — Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas. The convention featured 24 Santas workshops, including sessions on storytelling, beard grooming, and Santa ethics. It also featured an exhibit floor, with vendors promoting everything from Santa suits to cologne (peppermint-scented is the most popular). The highlight was the Santa parade through Branson (see left).

“Being Santa is a lot of fun,” says Santa Tim, who has appeared as Santa on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Deal or No Deal” — not to mention countless malls and parties. “But it's also a business.”

The next Santa convention is slated for 2008. While Branson is on the short list, the site hasn't been determined yet because the association got so many offers — from Santa Claus, Ind., to San Francisco. “We're not a big money-making convention,” Santa Tim says, “but we're a fun group.”