About 5 years ago, I wanted to buy Tristan his first computer but didn’t have the $650 Future Shop was asking for it… what to do? Racking my brain, I came up with an unusual idea; if I (a) donned the high quality Santa Suit I’d owned for a few years, then (b) put an ad on Craigslist, I wondered if (c) anyone needing a “Santa” for Christmas parties or events would hire me? With nothing to lose, I put in the ad, and Voila! David’s “Santa Service” was born!
I have to say, the response was pretty good right off the bat! That first year I had a total of 5 jobs, and made $600 which put the computer well within my fiscal reach. Sensing I was onto something, the following year I contacted those same customers and gained some repeat business, while the trusty Craigslist ad picked up a few new ones. That year I net $800 which, once again, went towards financing my Christmas activities. With no computer to buy, let’s just say that the Xmas booze quality went from “Well” to “Top Shelf”! Ho, ho, ho!
By this time I was starting to get the gist of what made a “good” Santa; and with every performance, I tried to create a more authentic character, one who had genuine interactions with the boys and girls, and left them feeling special. I also wanted the people who hired me (a.k.a. those who “paid the bill”) to feel that they were getting good value for their money spent on Jolly Old Saint Nick. It’s important to note that while Santa may only appear for 20 or 30 minutes, the whole production – including waiting for the kids, dressing and undressing, and the big variable – travel time – can take up to 2 hours, and therefore each job is a pretty good time commitment that I charge for. I make sure my customers know all this up front, and most have been very understanding and paid my requested fees (often with a tip) no el problemo.
I have one more job this week, and then I’ll be finished up for the season – looks like a nice bottle of Scotch for the holidays this year! Woo Hoo! But seriously, one day this past week (while patiently waiting outside a house in full costume) I got to thinking of all the things I’ve learned about what makes a good Santa Claus. It’s a pretty cool gig, for sure; but if Santa is to remain a magical figure for our little ones, it’s important that whoever dons the suit understands that it’s also a responsibility that needs to be taken very seriously. After 5 seasons of being Santa, here’s what I’ve learned about this:
Little Kids Really DO believe in Santa! We assume they do, but let me tell you that nothing prepares you for the moment you walk through a door and one or two children shriek out your name (Santa!) and bolt towards you for a hug. Their eyes light up and they are in awe of… you! It’s a tremendously heart-warming feeling to be in the presence of such sweet, innocent kids whose parents have kept that magic alive. Santa’s job is to give them a gentle hug back, and tell them how happy he is to see them, and make sure he doesn’t miss anyone who wants that hug. To me, this is real Christmas magic.
As Santa, You Have a Responsibility To Keep the Magic Alive: This is huge: Despite being in a ubiquitous red suit and a beard, to those children in front of you YOU ARE SANTA CLAUS! You must do whatever you can to keep the magic alive – ask questions, answer questions and don’t get annoyed as your body temperature rises up to 106 degrees due to a heavy red suit, stomach padding and of course that itchy polyester wig and beard. And yes, these things will drive one around the bend, but as long as you are wearing them, the children can never know you are uncomfortable. To them you are happy and jolly; and it’s your responsibility to make sure they feel this is true at all times. Above all, make sure you have a “top notch” Ho! Ho! Ho! to belt out every couple of minutes!
Set the Pace & Routine BEFORE You Start: As you can tell, the suit gets brutally hot, so it’s important to have a plan BEFORE going in. Before I book a gig, I always make sure the customer knows exactly what Santa does (hand presents to the boys and girls, pose for photos, hand out candy canes) and what he doesn’t do (read stories, stand around in the room afterwards, doing nothing when you should be at the North Pole exploiting elves in the toy sweatshop, etc.); let them know that once the tasks are completed – especially the family photos – Santa will wish everyone a “Merry Christmas”, then quietly slip out the back. This way there aren’t any unrealistic expectations from customers, or more importantly, the children.
Being Santa is More Than Just Putting On a Suit: Big Time! Anyone who is a successful Santa understands they are “playing a character”, not just donning a suit and false beard and handing out a few presents. I change my voice, and make sure I ask the boys and girls questions like “Are you excited for Christmas?” and “What’s your favourite part of Christmas?” I try to stay away from the stock “What do you want for Christmas?” question since I can only imagine some kid asking for a present that he doesn’t wind up getting… that alone would tarnish the magic, and probably result in some pissed off moms and dads who didnt’ want their kid to have an iPhone 7! I always keep it generic as possible, and always, always crouch down to the children’s level; I’m Santa Claus, after all! Bonus Points: I’ve discovered kids LOVE a Santa who “Fist-Bumps” and “High Five’s”… who would have guessed?
You Have To Know How To Deal With Older Kids: Let’s face it, around 12 years old, the gig is up; so what do you do with those kids who reluctantly pose for pictures at the behest of their parents, knowing full well you are just some guy in a suit? Easy – Tell them it’s a great picture for Facebook, and watch them scurry back to their tables (or wherever) to update their cover photo just seconds after the shot has been taken; even if they pretend they aren’t doing so.
You’ve Got To Speak “Santa-ese”: Santa has specific lingo he uses, and failing to do so can oust even the best-dressed phoney! Kids are never called “kids”; no, they are always “Children” or “The boys and girls”. Things aren’t “Awesome!” or “Cool!”, they are “Wonderful” and, well, “Wonderful” again. Presents are “Presents”, not “gifts”; gifts are what adults give each other. Bonus tip: You don’t need to know all the reindeer’s names, just Rudolph and one other. Just make sure you task the kids with leaving out a carrot for Rudolph and you’ll have made their day.
There’s A Trick To Knowing All The Children’s Names: Before you enter a party ask if any of the children have unusual names; and if so, try to memorize them if possible. Unfortunately, this is really common these days and can trip up even the most seasoned Santa, since he’s supposed to know every child’s name. This trick helps him be prepared just in case “Jaxton” or “Sha-Sheena” wind up on his knee. Trust me, there’s almost one at every children’s party, and it can be pretty embarrassing when a youngster calls you out on not know their name… even if it is “Choltron” or something else crazy like that!
You Must Have Patience: One thing I wasn’t ready for is just how much “waiting around” in costume there would be. I figure on average, I spend at least 15 minutes fully suited up, just waiting for the exact moment Santa is supposed to appear. It’s hot, sweaty and uncomfortable, but it’s all part of the deal, so suck it up, buttercup. The good news is that once the performance begins, your focus switches off it and onto the children, and the time goes by fairly quickly after that.
You Need To Know Where Your Reindeer And Sleigh Are At All Times! That’s because some adorable little tyke WILL ask you, guaranteed; they are really, really hoping they are parked out on the street so they can go visit and finally meet Rudolph in person. Usually some yarn about “resting up” at the North Pole will suffice, but make sure you have your story straight beforehand – whatever you do, don’t go in cold and fumble – make your story believable!
As Much As I Like The Extra Xmas Cash, Here Are The 3 Main Reasons I Do This:
1) As mentioned, the kids who really believe I’m Santa, and hug me like a rock star are the best. They melt my heart and make me feel wonderful, and hopeful at the same time
2) On occasion when a child brings me a picture, or small trinket and says “Santa, I made this for you”. I dare anyone not to be affected by this gesture of pure, adolescent kindness.
3) And finally, emails like this:
Thank you SO much! It was awesome and the kids will be talking about it for so long, probably til next year, LOL! It was wonderful and I’ve recommended you to my friend, so I hope it’s okay if I pass your email along? You might be fully booked now but I thought I’d try! I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and thanks again – it was so wonderful!
Now you know all my trade secrets about how to be a good Santa; Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if now there’s going to be increased competition next year! Ho! Ho! Ho!