Do you love Christmas? Are you full of cheer? Can you grow a belly and — more importantly — a beard (or just fake it all well?)
You might have what it takes to work as a professional Santa Claus. After all, the real Santa Claus can’t be everywhere all the time.
If you’ve thought about pursuing this unusual seasonal job but didn’t know where to start, keep reading for advice from professional Santas in three different states. They share the inside scoop on working as Santa this Christmas.
What it Takes to be Santa Claus
Every year, thousands of shopping malls, department stores and corporations throw Christmas-themed events and parties that rely on guest appearances in person and on Zoom from Ol’ Saint Nick himself.
(Spoiler alert: not the real one. He’s too busy. It’s actually a complex network of Santa Claus impersonators.)
If you’ve got what it takes — e.g. a jolly chuckle, a mean beard (real or not), a background check and liability insurance — you can find a variety of Santa Claus jobs this time of year
Yes, there are a few important commonalities that most professional Santa Claus look-alikes possess.
“Of course, a convincing look is paramount,” says Ed Taylor, who has worked as a professional Santa since 2003. He’s appeared in TV commercials, movies and works as Santa in Los Angeles and around the world. Last year, Taylor did more than 550 virtual Santa visits.
A great smile and a jovial personality helps but beyond that, the learned skills are super important, Taylor says.
“Like how to take a great photo, how to establish rapport with children, working with those with special needs, storytelling, beard care and grooming, how to use virtual technology and more,” he says.
Mitch Allen, head elf at Hire Santa, a job site for Santas based in Dallas, says that being Santa is hard work, as you have to be in character for many hours at a time and for many days in a row. This is something people don’t consider when they’re trying dutifully to gain weight and to grow out their beards.
“We at HireSanta like to say, ‘Real beard, real belly and real jolly,’ ” Allen says. “But seriously, you have to have the love of Christmas in your heart, and enjoy interacting with children of all ages as you help bring the season to life.”
The pandemic has affected the way Santa’s stalwart stand-ins spread holiday cheer.
“In 2020, everything changed: Masks, social distancing, acrylic barriers between Santa and the children were all common,” Allen says. Some of this will continue this year.
But the pandemic also had a bright side for Santa, making virtual home visits possible, he says. HireSanta developed virtual visits, where parents could hire Santa specifically for their own children so they’d have a personal interaction with him from home.
He says they’re already seeing strong demand for this again this year.
Taylor switched to online only, relishing not having to drive through Los Angeles traffic to land at his appointed Santa post. Last year, he appeared via Zoom for a virtual tree lighting ceremony, and he hopped online for dozens of virtual company parties in the United States and around the world, including Japan, Australia, England, France and in U.S. embassies in Poland and Puerto Rico.
Ready to find work as a professional Santa Claus? Here are the techniques our Santas suggested:
1. Go to Santa School
You probably didn’t know it, but Santa schools are a big business.
There are plenty to choose from, online and in-person. Taylor runs the Worldwide Santa Claus Network, an online Santa School and a community of Claus portrayal artists with more than 4,000 members worldwide. They offer classes for everything from Santas who want to do TV commercials to classes for those who need to set up virtual Santa visits.
Is Santa school necessary? No, but it’s helpful.
“Santas that take being Santa seriously attend regional and/or national school,” Allen says. “We recommend that Santas attend additional training to become better entertainers.”
2. Network With Other Santas
You don’t have to go to Santa school to find success as a Santa.
Santa Jim Beck got started by working for an established Santa who “subbed out other Santas.” Though he had to pay the lead Santa a cut of his earnings, the experience led to gigs of his own.
If you’re just starting out, this is a smart move. Find a local Santa who has more work than he can handle, then offer to take on any gigs he can’t or doesn’t want to do. If you offer him a percentage of your earnings, what Santa is going to say no?
3. Buy a Suit… and Start Working
That’s how Michigan Santa Claus did it.
His first Santa suit was made by a friend who is a professional sewer. He wore it while helping to sell Christmas trees at the Home Depot where his son worked. He wanted to “see what the response would be and if I liked it.”
4. Build a Website
For all of the Santas we interviewed, web inquiries are key to the majority of their business. Creating a website is an essential step in starting your business.
If you don’t have the money for professional web design, don’t fret: You can ask a friend for help or even use free tools to DIY your site.
5. Get on Social Media
Santas booking their own appearances often get jobs due to word of mouth and social media shares. Pop up your profile on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook and maintain connections with potential clients.. Create some fun TikTok videos as Santa, Taylor says. One jolly TikToker, @santajclaus, has 2.7 million followers.
6. Book Your Return Visits
The first year of being a Santa is definitely the hardest. However, once you’ve visited some families, Santa Jim Beck says, “They’re generally going to want you back next year.”
People want continuity for their kids, which means guaranteed repeat business each year — in addition to any new clients you drum up.
Santa Tim says this works for corporate events, too — as does word of mouth. “One HR lady will ask another one, ‘What Santa did you hire?’ and that will get you some more gigs.”
7. Reach out to HireSanta
Hire Santa was created specifically for Santas to find jobs and to help people or groups looking to hire Santas. The site boasts thousands of Santa Claus entertainers in their database, and people from all over the world reach out and hire Santa through this site.
The pay range for professional Santas varies widely and depends on how much you work and how much effort you put into marketing yourself.
The majority of Santas only work during November and December, though some keep the holiday spirit going all year long.
Allen estimates that professional Santa Claus entertainers can earn between $5,000-$10,000 during the six to eight weeks leading up to Christmas, which is generally a full season at a mall or other retail location.
In addition to growing out your beard, there are some start-up costs involved in working as a Santa.
If you choose to attend Santa school, that will be one of your biggest expenses.
Santa Tim says the rest depends on your “level of professionalism.”
“If I’m going to represent Santa for children, I want to be as professional and realistic as I can be,” he says. “Children are looking at everything about you: your eyes, your cuffs, your boots, your belt. I put $200 to $300 into bleaching my hair and beard; I have two suits that each cost over $1,000, a $300 belt and $300 boots.”
Michigan Santa agrees, saying it’s important to not skimp on the suit. His is “lined wool with real sheepskin white fur trim.”
In addition to the suit and the website, he also says, “It’s very important to set up as a business account and register the name of the business with the state establishing LLC … [And] we’ve never had an issue, but we do carry Entertainment Liability Insurance.”
Becoming Santa Claus is a little more complicated than walking into your local shopping mall with an application in hand. Many malls and department stores rely on event companies, talent agencies and freelancers to meet their Kris Kringle needs. Here’s how to join those ranks.
Work at an Event or Photography Company
When you think of Santa Claus jobs, do you think of a winding single-file line through the atrium of a shopping mall, everyone waiting for a photo with the big guy? These types of events are often coordinated by events and photography businesses.
Some companies contract with shopping malls or department stores as full-service vendors – handling all the staff, decorations and photographs. Others may only provide photography services or Santa-staffing services.
Cherry Hill Programs and Instant Photo Corporation of America (IPCA) are two national companies that partner with regional shopping malls across the nation to hire Santas, Mrs. Clauses and other festive characters (as well as some photographers).
Use a Talent or PR Agency
Maybe you have experience as Santa under your well-worn leather belt. In addition to looking the part, you sing or act to enliven your impersonation. Simply put, you’re down to do more than sit on a red velvet throne for a few pictures.
A talent agency is just what you need. Such agencies find the Santa Claus jobs — the corporate events, the media appearances, the charity drives — and reach out to you if you’re a part of their network and meet certain criteria.
Freelance as Santa
Whether you find gigs through an events company or talent agency, you can always boost the profile of your Santa enterprise by finding clients on your own. This will require a bit more legwork on your part, but the reward can be well worth it. Some Santas we spoke to earn up to $7,000 a season by running their own show.
Penny Hoarder contributors Adam Hardy, Susan Shain and Danielle Braff provided information for this report.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.