Santa is very loosely based on St. Nicholas – a Christian bishop who lived in present-day Turkey in 280 A.D. Both of his parents died when he was young, and it was rumored that he used all his inheritance to give to the poor and help people in bad situations. This spirit of giving to the needy spread throughout the ages… and then we get to 1820 and a poet has to make it weird. The poem was called, “An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas” (AKA Twas the Night Before Christmas) and it was by Clement Clarke Moore. In it, he first stated that Santa was a jolly, heavy man who came down chimneys to leave presents for well-behaved children, and that he had a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Santa was just a normal dude up until then.
1841 was when ‘live Santa’s’ were born.
Playing Santa can be both rewarding, and emotionally draining. It takes a lot of dedication. You have to be dedicated to playing that character, because it is a no-no to break character. Those who play him are often driven by the desire to build lasting memories. They come from all walks of life and have different stories of how they came to be in the red suit. Its a secretive job, and because of this, I thought it would be interesting to know what it’s like on the inside.
I’ve learned over the years through me and ‘Santa’s’ conversations that playing Kris Kringle isn’t all fun and games… that it can sometimes have gut-wrenching moments that tear you apart inside. Children that believe in Santa Claus view him as a monument of goodness, and because of this, some children will whisper things in Santa’s ear that should never pass over a child’s lips.
I know a guy that is a professional Santa, and I interviewed him for this post.
This is his personal story.
How did this happen? Lol
I had a friend of mine that had a granddaughter in daycare, and they needed a Santa. This was in 1991 when I was 21 years old. She told me that she would buy the suit if I would play the part, and I told her okay! – and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Where is your favorite function to be Santa at?
Historic downtown, fire departments, churches, and one private home I go to every year on Christmas Eve… This same family has reserved me every Christmas Eve for 28 years now… YES – I’ve been going to that SAME house for 28 years! Some of the kids I held that were in diapers now have kids of their own, and I’ve got them sitting on my lap too. It’s come full circle! The grandmother of them all – she’s probably about 90 years old, and the whole family is still involved in it… From 2 to 90. And they do a family portrait every year with all the generations with me. I’ve been with 2 generations in that house their whole lives sofar…
How much can a professional Santa make working say, 8 hours at a large mall?
At malls they usually only pay me by the hour at close to minimum wage. Private hire is where I make the most… Once I made $800 in 4 hours from a private individual… Most of the time I just ask for donations because I enjoy it so much that that’s my payment to see all the kids happy, even if its just for 30 seconds to a minute. Santa is really all about them. The kids are in it for the experience.
Any children ever tell you anything sad?
A little girl one time came to sit on my lap and she told me she was very sick. I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, and she told me, “I wanted a new kidney, but mama’s going to give me hers.” 🙂 She was sooooo happy, and I could do nothing but sit there behind that white beard and fight back the tears. I didn’t realize until then how good I had it. Kids have told me before that their parents fight… I can tell a lot about their home life in just 30 seconds, because they are totally honest with me. I’ve heard some sad sad stuff… A lot of them tell me about how their parents are no longer together.
I guess you have to pass a background check I’m assuming?
NO. There is no background check required to be Santa, which I think is crazy!!! I’m sure some places may do them, but to my knowledge, I’ve never had one done by any agency i’ve been hired by before getting in the chair. I want to try to get a law passed or something so sex-offenders cannot wear Santa suits and have kids to come sit on their laps. I don’t know if this has ever actually happened, but there would be no way of knowing, would there? It’s worrying in this day and age.
Any encounters with pervy adults? Lol
A couple of years ago, these women (friends, sisters?) got in line to get their picture made with me. These girls thought it would be funny to rub all over me and act pervy. They didn’t realize that my wife was the one taking their picture! I really have to watch out for groups of women, because when you have a group of adults, a lot of times they’re just trying to see what they can get by with, because they know Santa can’t flip out in public. Sometimes their idea of being funny is inappropriate. (He also told me another story I had to omit from this post it was so bad lol)
How many bookings do you do between Thanksgiving and Christmas?
20-30 is typical. I know. It’s crazy.
Are children with special needs more prone to shy away from you, or are they pretty receptive?
I’ve noticed they usually are a lot more receptive to me and have a sunnier disposition about them more so than the other kids. They are usually the most excited to see me. 🙂
Do you feel bad when kids start crying because they’re afraid of you?
Sometimes it can make me feel bad, yes – but what I do is if I see them being hesitant, I’ll tell the parents to step away and just let them watch as kids come up to me and eventually, they most of the time will make their way up on their own. I don’t ever wany to force them on Santa because a big guy in a red suit can be intimidating and scary. Sometimes I tell them they can just stand beside me too.
Are there certain encounters with children you’ve had as Santa that you’ll never forget?
Yes! Most definitely! I had a little girl one time cut her hair off for Christmas because she wanted to give her hair to some kids with Cancer that were her age. I had an encounter with a boy that wanted Santa to give him a good voice for Christmas because he had it in his heart to sing and make people feel good. I’ve also had one girl say that she would rather have other kids have a better Christmas than her… Kids aren’t all selfish l like people think they are. I would know.
Ever been pooped on by a kid?
I actually havent! Lol
Whats the hardest thing about being Santa?
Trying to be a counselor. When they sit on my lap, the truth comes out. Some kids have begged me to reunite their parents. But, I have to tell them that it’s hard to do that. When that happens, I try to encourage them and tell them regardless if their parents are separated that they still love them. Its hard telling a child that, because children often are the victims of adults decisions. Its tough.
Tell me about your red suit.
Well my first suit was $99, and as I mentioned earlier, it was purchased for me. The suit I have currently I had tailor-made locally and it cost around $550 for just 3 yards of fabric. ($180 a yard!) If I bought a similar one to it online, it wouldve ran me around $1,500. Theres some serious money in these suits. (This mans suit ive seen in person and it is very nice and ‘furry’. It has that ‘father christmas’ vibe.)
Does your family get involved too?
Yes! My child and I were hunting one day and they asked me about Santa and I told them who I was, and they were kind of sad – but then they asked me, “Daddy, can I be your elf?” So we had an elf suit made and my kid still helps me today and they’re 21 now!
Kids ever bring YOU any gifts for Christmas?
They do sometimes! Its usually in the form of ornaments. That’s what we decorate our Christmas tree with every year. Most of our ornaments are things kids have made for me over the years.
Knowing what it’s like now to be a professional Santa has given me a new appreciation toward these men. The dedication and care that it takes to spend time with thousands and thousands of children each year, giving them each their little moment, is amazing. It’s much more than just putting on a suit and just getting through it for a cash grab. In many ways, it is a ministry.
St. Nicholas was a Christian bishop, and was born just 200-some years after Jesus. His spirit of giving has inspired millions of people, and still is, over 1, 000 years later. -and it continues traditionally in the form of Santa Claus. But you don’t have to be a professional Santa to BE a Santa to somebody else. Keep that in mind this year. 🙂