How Santa impersonators get real money
Turns out the Santa industry is very competitive
Santa impersonators can get some big paychecks — if they can stand out in the competitive industry, that is. It’s not as simple as slapping on a $30 Santa costume. To get gigs, Santas need to walk, talk, and breathe the Kriss Kringle lifestyle.
1. Talented Santas can score big-time
The profession of Santa impersonator can pay off big-time depending on the time of year. Professional Santa Ed Taylor told Money.com that he can earn between $400 to $600 for the first half-hour on Christmas Day, then $200 for each additional half-hour. Rates are lower throughout the year, says the Money.com report.
Taylor might earn $275 for the first half-hour and then $100 for each additional half-hour.
Santas can earn $8,000 to $15,000 during the holiday season, but it’s not unheard of to take home $80,000.
NEXT: The gigs that make stacks.
2. The biggest bucks are in the private events
A 2006 report in Payscale says that the 75th percentile for Santas is $75 per hour — not too bad! That’s better than the median, which is about $30 an hour. “Those offering private visits (no chimneys, please) might charge anywhere from $50 to $300 per hour,” says a 2011 report in MarketWatch. Getting private gigs might involve marketing yourself online and networking.
Also, getting recommended to those needing some Santa magic in their life.
Get yourself a website, get on social media, and any other platforms to market yourself.
NEXT: Here’s what mall Santas make.
3. But not all Santas are paid equally
But few Santas make stacks. “The vast majority of Santas do not make much money at it,” Jack Sanderson, creator of the Becoming Santa documentary, told MarketWatch. Keep in mind that Ed Taylor from slide one is a “high-end Santa,” so not all Santas are guaranteed those earnings. Santas you might see working the mall gigs make far fewer than those that nab the private event gigs.
It’s about $10 to $40 an hour, reads the report in MarketWatch.
A lot of Santa impersonators do free appearances at places like children’s hospitals and the like.
NEXT: Does Santa make you spend more?
4. You can get a gig as early as Nov. 1
A lot of malls like to get their fake Santas working as soon as right after Halloween. They can count on impulse buys from parents if a jolly Santa is present, professor Betsey Holloway from Samford University told MarketWatch. Parents might get a gift their kids ask for. Or they might be tempted by the “for sale” signs or buy snacks while waiting in line for Santa Claus.
The mere presence of a Santa impersonator is a subliminal spending trigger.
At least according to Michael Denning, a professor from Arizona State University who spoke to MarketWatch.
NEXT: Santa-ing isn’t as easy as you think.
5. The Santa market is competitive
It’s not as easy as you might think to get into the Santa impersonation business. It’s especially tough in the suburbs — the report in MarketWatch says there might be a Santa that’s held court at the local mall for years. It’s hard to boot someone that’s been a mainstay. If you want the good gigs, you gotta have the right look and acting chops.
There’s more than one big-bellied man with white hair that can give a hearty “ho ho ho,” yah hear?
Some Santas get some professional guidance to get top dollars.
NEXT: A big belly is mandatory.
6. You gotta look the part
First things first: Santa impersonators have got to look like Santa Claus. “It’s best if you’re over age 50, have a belly and can grow an impressive beard,” writes Susan Shain in The Penny Hoarder. “(But it doesn’t have to be white. Some Santas actually bleach their beards!)” It’s easy if Santas already look the part.
For example, Santa impersonator Jim Beck told The Penny Hoarder that he decided to give this Santa thing a try.
His friends told him he looked like Santa. (Even without the big white beard.)
NEXT: Bust out the sewing machine!
7. Some Santas put a lot of effort into their costumes
Colorado couple Margaret and Bruce Arnold work as Mrs. Claus and Santa Claus impersonators. “Margaret, who goes by Margee, hand makes many of Arnold’s suits, as well as her own ensembles,” writes Jennifer Calfas in Money.com. “While on a trip to Alaska several years ago, she purchased fur that would later become part of his coat.”
The Arnolds are likely to stand out from other Claus family impersonators.
They have the means to make unique costumes — not all Santas have those means!
NEXT: Looking like Santa comes at a price.
8. Start-up costs can be steep
You can get a Santa suit for $30, but that suit isn’t what’ll get you the gigs. A quality, signature red suit might cost anywhere from $400 to $2,000, says a report in MarketWatch. Santa costumes are getting more and more elaborate, though. “Santa has amazingly upgraded his wardrobe in the last five years,” Theresa Saidy of costume shop Adele’s of Hollywood told MarketWatch.
Saidy says Santas are starting to order long European-style robes and holiday vests.
NEXT: Employers usually ask these institutions for Santa recs.
9. There are ‘Santa schools’
Yes, you read that right. There are “Santa schools” that teach would-be Santa impersonators how to be the very best Santas they can be. There are several schools on the market to choose from. For example, there’s The Kringle Group LLC, which has a Santa school within its network of companies. There’s also the Victor Nevada Santa School and The Santa Claus Conservatory.
There, Santas can get educated on how to “ho ho ho” as heartily as possible.
Santa school alumni have better job prospects because employers ask the schools for recs.
NEXT: No college? No problem!
10. College degrees aren’t needed in the North Pole
A report in MarketWatch cited an interesting statistic from The Kringle Group: 90% of Santa impersonators have a college degree. That’s great and all, but Santa needs more than a B.A. to get hired at the local mall. (You could say that about a lot of jobs, actually … ) “Sign language, voice projection and storytelling … ”
“ … An immersion course in the six levels of child development and 30 different ways to work with a hesitant child,” are some of the subjects on the syllabus at Santa school, says the report in MarketWatch.
You can’t get that sort of education at any ol’ school, yah know?
NEXT: Get the word out.
11. Promote your Santa services
Get a website, get on social media, and network to get those Santa gigs. You have a $400 Santa suit to pay for, remember? Besides individuals seeking out your services, be on the lookout for open auditions to play Santa. If you’re a “premier” Santa, you could afford your own agent. That way, you can easily get gigs without hustling for that dough.
“Santa Rick” tells Vox he’s a Santa booking agent in addition to running his own Santa school.
Oh, and get this — Santa Rick is also a divorce attorney and mediator. (Truly a Renaissance man!)
NEXT: How do you get your Santa website in front of more eyes?
12. Get your website to hit the top of Google search results
Usually when individuals are looking for a service, they’ll use search engine Google to figure out where to find it. Those looking for a Santa Claus might search for “Santa impersonator near me” or “Santa + (whatever town they’re in.)” There’s a lot of content on the internet — how do you stand out?
You can get your website to rank higher on Google with some good SEO practices. If you’re web-savvy, there are instructions aplenty online.
Not web-savvy? Plenty of website designers are avail for hire!
NEXT: This small-town mayor moonlights as a Santa impersonator.
13. Learn the tricks of the trade
The mayor of Netcong, New Jersey, Joe Nametko, moonlights as a Santa impersonator. He tells Money.com he’s got his Santa routine “down to a science.” This includes having a back-up suit, several pairs of white gloves, and a cooling vest to prevent overheating. Sounds like he’s done this before. Joining trade organizations is another way to help Santas stay ahead of the Kringle game.
Nametko is part of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas.
This organization provides liability insurance coverage, scholarships, and background checks.
NEXT: It’s gross, but Santas need to put up with this.
14. Kids might sneeze on you
If you’re a mall Santa — or any Santa around lots of kids — you have to be able to withstand both the good and bad sides of children. Kids can be very cute, yes, buuut they also can sneeze on you, cough on you, have a hissy fit, or even pee on you. That’s super gross, and if you’re not a kid person on top of that, it’s even worse …
A report in MarketWatch says: “A third of Santas report a child has peed on them and 73% say a child coughs or sneezes directly in his face at least once a day.”
(Sure you’re up for this Santa work?)
NEXT: Some kids like Santa, some don’t …
15. Being Santa requires dealing with scared children
There might be many reasons why a child is scared of Santa impersonators. A report in MarketWatch says it might be because they’re a stranger, or that their beard scares him, the loud noises (earsplitting “ho ho ho’s”), or even the fact that they’re intimidated by Santa Claus. Santa impersonator Michael Carnell told MarketWatch the following in an interview.
“Here’s this person who is in charge of their presents … No wonder kids get scared.” The situation might be especially stressful for autistic children.
One mall offers “Sensitive Santa” hours especially for them.
NEXT: Professional Santas know to say “no” to this.
16. People might get you to push a product
Like Nancy Reagan said: “Just say no.” Santa experts interviewed for a report in MarketWatch say that properly trained Santa impersonators will know to avoid promising or pushing any particular product when interfacing with children. You know how seriously kids take things … “Santa’s not going to promise that you’re going to get everything you ask for, but he promises you’re going to like everything you get.”
One expert told MarketWatch that his own father — a Santa impersonator — told kids just that: “to like everything you get.”
Some Santas also tell people that there’s a shortage of a particular present that they might want.
NEXT: Mo’ kids, mo’ money.
17. Santas need to move the line along
Substitute mall Santa Kennison Kyle tells MarketWatch that kids are lucky to get 30 to 40 seconds with Santa. The reasoning? Mo’ kids equals mo’ money. “Mall photo companies tend to hire Santas on salary only,” writes Kelli B. Grant in MarketWatch. “But those who partner with a photo operation at other venues … ”
“… may get a cut of the photo fees or a bonus if they see a set number of kids.”
Santas might also be pressured to move lines along quickly, Grant adds.
NEXT: Santas must always answer this question correctly.
18. ‘Are you the real Santa?’
The answer is — surprisingly — not necessarily a resounding “yes, child.” It’s confusing for children to see various Santas in malls — which one is real? Professional “Auntie Claus” Jennifer Andews tells MarketWatch that Santas “aren’t in the business of lying.” But, just like lawyers do, there’s a way to spin the truth. “If a child says, ‘Are you the real one?’ … ”
“ … Our Santas will say, ‘Are you the real you? Then I must be the real me,’” Andews tells MarketWatch.
Professional Santa Jack Sanderson tells the publication he tells kids that he’s one of Santa’s “representatives.”
NEXT: Do you have enough Christmas spirit?
19. Santas have a history of public service work
There’s a range of workers within the Santa industry, according to a report in Money.com. For example, there are full-time and part-time Santas and retirees looking to support their retirement with income here and there. However, a lot of them have a history of public service. Some examples: Santa Larry Jefferson does part-time Santa duties while working at the Urban Inter-Tribal Center of Texas.
Santa Bruce Arnold used to drive a handicap-accessible transportation bus before becoming Santa. Remember the mayor of Netcong, New Jersey, Joe Nametko?
Being mayor of a small town still counts as public service!
NEXT: Seven percent of Santas in this survey had priors.
20. Ex-con? Might impact your ability to be Santa
You might think, “Well, Billy Bob Thornton’s con-man character in Bad Santa was able to get a gig as Santa Claus.” Remember — that’s the movies, hon. A 2003 survey from Pre-Employ.com indicated 7% of mall Santas had priors. Susen Mesco from American Events and Promotions told MarketWatch she’s rejected Santas with priors.
If someone employs a Santa based on a recommendation from a Santa school, they’ll likely get someone without prior convictions.
It’s rare for someone with a criminal history to get accepted to Santa school because background checks are run on all students.
NEXT: Food for thought for mall Santas.
21. Malls are ‘dying’ — does that impact Santa employment?
It’s a tale that the mainstream media cannot stop telling: E-commerce reigns king and malls are dying. With that logic, you might think that gigs for Santas are dwindling with the retail outlets themselves. According to a report in Business Insider, Santa gigs are changing but work is still out there. Now how can that be?!
Like consumers in the changing retail landscape, Santa gigs are moving toward alternative retail outlets. There are also Hollywood gigs and entrepreneurial ventures.
Santa Ed Taylor, for example, met aspiring actors while working at a mall in LA who encouraged him to try out for TV gigs.
NEXT: This Santa made history — and headlines.
22. Santas of color are rare
Headlines were made when the Mall of America hired its first black Santa in 2016 — Larry Jefferson. The history-making Santa told The Washington Post: “There need to be more Santas of color, because this is America, and kids need to see a Santa that looks like them … That helps kids to identify with the love and spirit of the holiday.”
However, Jefferson thinks there doesn’t need to be so much fuss about the Mall of America’s first black Santa.
“Everyone’s making a big deal about this because I’m a black Santa. But gosh, I’m just Santa!” he told The Washington Post.
NEXT: The life and career of Santa’s partner.
23. What’s it like being a Mrs. Claus impersonator?
Ann Votaw wrote about her experience attending Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School to become a Mrs. Claus performer. She went in as “an independent Claus” as she didn’t work with a Santa yet. Votaw had a specific vision for how she wanted her Mrs. Claus to look: glamorous home-management maven that’s a supportive partner but no sidekick!
In the Mrs. Claus breakout session, Votaw learned that Mrs. Claus can go to events alone without a Mr. Claus.
“Mrs. Claus is whatever you make her — she can be any size or color,” Votaw wrote.
NEXT: Some Santas take the job home with them.
24. It’s not just a job — it’s a lifestyle
Santa impersonators have plans in place to keep the spirit alive whether they’re wearing the red velvet suit or not, says a report in Money.com. An incident they should always plan for is if they get recognized as Mr. or Mrs. Claus off the job and/or during offseason months. However, some Santas truly feel the role of the overseer of the North Pole on and off the job.
Maintaining the look year-round also involves an attitude check: “You don’t go outdoors when you’re grumpy,” Santa Tom Zimecki told Money.com.
Zimecki also drives a car with reindeer antlers and red nose à la Rudolph.
NEXT: Sometimes Santa can’t keep a secret all on his own.
25. Keep the magic alive off the clock
Bruce and Margaret Arnold — who play Santa and Mrs. Claus — sometimes run into kids that might recognize them from a mall visit. To get the kids to “keep quiet,” they had out stickers to reward them for keeping their “secret.” Mrs. Arnold told Money.com about one favorite incident. It started off with two young boys approaching Mr. Arnold in a restaurant.
“Whether it’s in July or May or December, the children, when they see him and his face and his hair and his beard, they take a second look,” she told Money.com.
Some Santas just have that wintry appearance and outlook that lasts year-round. Perhaps we can take a page outta Santa’s book and be jolly year-round!