Professional Santa Claus
Do you feel the Christmas spirit? Santa does. Do you love children? Santa does. Those are the two pre-requisites to becoming a professional Santa Claus. It also helps if you're pleasantly plump and have the ability to grow a beard, but there are many skinny Santas who find work and you can easily purchase a fake beard. That said, the Santas who are truly dedicated to their craft play the part to a 'T.' They grow out their beards for months and even bleach them white!
Basically, if you like Christmas, enjoy being around children and are willing to spend around $2,000 to launch your career (for training and proper attire), you can pull in about $10,000 of supplemental income each holiday season as Santa Claus.
What Does a Professional Santa Do?
A professional Santa is an entertainer paid to give a live performance. That said, Santas are normally an attraction for children. Children sit on Santa's lap and tell Santa what they want for Christmas. Some Santas perform 'tricks' or 'acts' such as making animal balloons or playing the kazoo. Santa either works private events—including parties and corporate functions—or in public spaces, usually shopping centers such as Macy's or a mall.
How To Launch Your Santa Career
Believe it or not, most Santas attend Santa school. Two of the most well known schools are the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan as well as the Professional Santa Claus School in Denver, Colorado. Charles W. Howard is a three-day program that costs $425 for new students. The Professional Santa Claus School in Denver is a four day program that costs around $800. Included in this $800 is eleven months of pre and post conference training as well as publicity photos. They also supply live reindeer during training as well as little people elves.
Attending one of these programs is a good idea because as a professional Santa, you have to make sure you know how to properly talk to children. These schools prepare you for various situations and give you an overview of child psychology so that you don't upset any children or say something that can get you in trouble. For example, if a homeless child asks for food for Christmas, you have to respond carefully because that's a sensitive situation. Similarly, if a bratty kid asks for a Playstation 4 and an Xbox One, you have to laugh it off and be pleasant. On a very serious note, if a child mentions any form of abuse or you sense that a child is a victim of abuse, you need to follow a very strict protocol in order to ensure that the child is safe.
Santa schools also help you with marketing, networking and certain idiosyncrasies of the Santa profession such as the proper procedure for cleaning your Santa suit. Many Santas attend school every year so that they reinforce what they've learned in addition to learning new things. Also, employers like the fact that you've attended these schools because it means you've been trained in safety precautions as well as certain risk mitigating tactics.
That said, Santa school isn't required. Many Santas break into the industry by approaching a local Santa who's overwhelmed with a full slate of gigs and offer to sub in at any time. If you offer the local Santa 20% of your pay for every substitute gig, the local Santa is likely to accept to your offer, right? Even if you do go to Santa School, offering to be an established Santa's backup is a good way to gain some traction in the business. A great networking event at which to meet established Santas is the Discover Santa Convention in Branson, Missouri that takes place over one weekend every July. Over 800 Santas attend! Check out the video below.
Before you book your first gig, you'll need to look the part of Santa. A big aspect of the job is the first impression you create when you're in character. When the kids see you for the first time, they should be floored by your resemblance to Santa. Most Santas are over 50 years old, but you can be any age really as long as you look the part. Younger Santas can use make up or other props such as wrinkle masks to look older. Most Santas are overweight as well, but you can always stuff your suit with pillows or wear a pregnancy simulator. (FYI pregnancy simulators cost in the neighborhood of $500.)
Most Santas grow out their beards naturally (often for years at a time) and dye it white if it isn't naturally white. If you can't grow a beard or your beard isn't long enough, you should purchase a convincing fake beard.
The Santa suit itself will probably cost around $1000 if you buy one that's high quality which you should because presumably it'll last you for a long, long time. Also, kids will be sitting on your lap so you want the suit to be soft--preferably velvet--and clean. You don't want to smell like cigarettes, for example. You also have to careful washing the suit; it has to be dry-cleaned properly and regularly so that you have sanitary interactions with the kids sitting on your lap.
Salary and Job Opportunities
Santas apply directly for jobs at shopping centers, malls, stores and large, public gathering areas. Rockefeller Center in New York City, for example, has a stable of professional Santas on call during the holiday season. These types of job pay by the hour, normally around $25 per hour for a nine to five type workload. The benefit of these gigs is that they're stable work and often recur year to year. The downside is that your interaction with each child is usually limited to around 30 seconds. Also, you're working for 'The Man' as just another cog in corporate America.
Many Santas prefer private gigs such as Christmas parties and corporate events. For these events, you can set your own pay rate, anywhere from $100 to $500. If you're working a Christmas party for an investment bank, let's say, $1,000 is a very reasonable wage. You have to know how to negotiate as well as the person(s) with whom you're negotiating. Another benefit to private events is that you have more creative freedom as to how long you interact with kids and also the manner in which you interact with kids; there's no set conversation template. You also set your own schedule although most private events will be held at night during the week and in morning and night over the weekend.
Just like any other job in entertainment, you have to market yourself to get gigs, especially private gigs. It's one thing to apply for a job at a mall or a department store; that process will be more traditional. You'll likely be called in for an interview if your resume meets certain standards. If that interview goes well, you'll likely get the job.
For private gigs, most Santas get hired through referral business, return business or through website inquiries. Yup, most Santas have websites and receive inquiries through a 'Contact Me' tab. You can easily set up a website through Squarespace or Wordpress for $100 per year even if you know nothing about computers. Also, a great resource for finding gigs is by setting up a profile on GigSalad.com. Gig Salad is designed for live performers and gets lots of traffic each month from people looking to hire live performers.
Obviously, being Santa is a seasonal job that you work during the holiday season. If during the holiday season you have a full time gig with a local mall in addition to a few private gigs, you can easily make $5,000. Even if you don't have a full time type gig with a local mall or store, you can make $5,000 or more if you just hustle and book a bunch of private events. Getting paid that much money to dress up like Santa and talk to kids isn't a bad deal! If you're really experienced and charge a lot, you might be able to make $10,000 per holiday season, but that's the ceiling. At the end of the day, if you ask for too much money, the person thinking about hiring you will just hire somebody cheaper.
There can be a lot of money in training new Santas if you're very experienced and confident in your Santa wisdom, but being a Santa isn't necessarily the best career choice if you're looking to make the big bucks. It's simply a fun, pleasant way to make a good chunk of change on the side (probably as a part time job) while bringing joy to children.
Your first year as a Santa is going to be your hardest; don't give up! You'll make some mistakes at first; learn from your mistakes. Sharpen your act and sharpen your routine as much as you can. Once you get a few gigs under your belt, you'll find that you'll get some good referral business and build a brand for yourself locally. Oh, one last tip, work on your HO HO HO!