Confessions Of A Mall Santa Claus

Mall santa confessions

They show up each year in malls and department stores like clockwork, seemingly eager to hear every child's Christmas wish list and pose, broadly smiling for photos. And, of course, there's that unmistakably hearty "Ho, ho, ho!" that signals that the holiday season -- and Santa Claus, himself -- has arrived.

But what's it really like being the chief elf? How much can you earn, and how are the working conditions?

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First, the good news: The pay can be exceptional. A PayScale survey showed that Santas can earn up to $100 an hour. Amounts posted at RealSantas.com show even higher rates, $175 to $300 for the first hour for posing as Santa at private parties. Additional hours average $125 to $200 each.

But there are some downsides. The attractive pay combined with the current tough job market means there's lots more competition for available gigs. And those who land assignments playing Santa say that the nonstop cheerfulness can be draining. The season is stuffed with 10-hour days, tending to demanding children. And sometimes kids can get unruly -- even aggressive.

"I did not leave the chair to go to the bathroom and it ended with me getting hit in the head with a frying pan" by a scared child, Scott Serafin, 66, a Buffalo-based Santa, who also sells sleds, recently told the New York Post. His biggest, most exhausting gig included 2,600 children during a seven-hour stint at a psychiatric hospital.

Letting your fatigue or irritation show can also get you sacked. Just ask the Santa who -- as the Christian Science Monitor put it -- was "fired for being naughty, not nice," after parents shopping at the Maine Mall in Portland, Maine, complained that he was rude. The Santa (who was not identified) was let go after a local TV station aired a story and parents posted complaints about him on Facebook.

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The Santa in question allegedly turned surly after 6-year-old Chantel Mailhiot's mother, Jessica, declined to buy a $20 photo set. Santa also refused to let Chantel sit on his lap, mother and daughter told WGME-TV. What's more, Chantel said, when she asked for an American Girl doll, Santa replied that she'd get an "American football."

Of course, rudeness isn't only limited to overworked Santas. Santaisreal2, a contributor to Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" subsite, recently wrote about an incident that was among the worst he's experienced playing the jolly old elf (even though he's just 25).

"Kid was walking by and I said Merry Christmas! The Mom told her kid in a really loud voice, that I wasn't santa claus but some perv playing dress up." [Note: Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" section uses anonymous sources, which can't be verified. Excerpts that appear here retain their original spelling and grammar.]

Santaisreal2 noted these examples as among the stranger items that children have told Santa that they wanted, when asked, "What do you want for Christmas": a "Pink Pony," "Food" (from a 15-year-old who was caught off guard by the question), an "AK47," and "PBR" -- apparently requested by a thirsty 30-year-old.

Asked if he had to buy his own outfit, Santaisreal2 replied, "Nope, my santa costume was provided for me. (I couldn't afford it, if i had to pay for it)." The contributor, who says that he works as a nurse in a children's hospital when he's not playing Santa, also says the pay isn't that good: $13 an hour -- a far cry from the $100 an hour others get.

But that may have more to do with the venue than Santaisreal2's aptitude. He writes: "I work in a pretty White Trash mall. Plenty of teenagers who think they are tough and get into it at the mall."

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Santaisreal2 goes on:

"So one year two guys started picking on a kid. I couldn't yell at them as santa because I had a kid on my lap. But one thing led to another and the one of the two guys stabbed the kid that was getting picked on. I broke character immediately, and ripped off my beard and wig and started to work on the kid. (both kids ran off after they realized the severity of stabbing a kid in the stomach) I stabilized the kid and reported off the to police and EMTs. Had to throw away that santa suit ... "

So much for holiday spirit.

Still, Santaisreal2 might consider himself lucky to have a job. As MarketWatch reports, there's no official Kris Kringle employment index, but anecdotal evidence from a Santa school in Canada suggests more Clauses are going without employment this year.

"There's no question about it, the number of Santas out there looking for work has grown," says Jennifer Andrews, headmaster of the Santa School in Calgary, Alberta, which trains Santa to work in stores and malls in the U.S. and around the world.

Enrollment increased fourfold this year, Andrews said, adding, "there's not a lot of room for untrained Santas." The story is similar at The Kringle Group, an agency based in Riverside, Calif., which has more than 2,200 Santas on its books.

One of those keen for work is 56-year-old George Kane, a former emergency medical technician and scuba technician, who's yet to make it rich playing Santa, despite his very full -- and real -- white beard.

The Yulan, N.Y.-resident is so eager for work, he's charging just $30 an hour or $50 for two hours to play Santa. With the job market so tough, Kane told MarketWatch that he plans to use the Internet and social networking to more aggressively market himself. "If I can get back into the workforce doing this," he said, "I'd be very happy."



David Schepp

Staff Writer

David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.

Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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Jim Rockford

I do not think most people realize when Jesus Christ was really born.

History should be WHAT HAPPENED. Not when we want to celebrate the day of something that happened. We still keep Thaksgiving and Easter as special days according to our history books of what happened and celebrate them accordingly.

Dec 25 was chosen from a pagan calendar holiday and used to celebrate Christmas.
It had to do with protestants not caring for catholic ways.

St. Nicholas (has multiple spellings) was a real person. He was a Bishop too. In those days a lady was supposed to have a dowry to share with her husband for marriage. St. Nicholas found out about one lady and threw in a purse of coins through an open window annonymously so the lady could meet the customs and marry back then. Later he was arrested for his beliefs.

The north pole was 160 acres of ex military land that was developed into a town in Alaska. With todays search engines, it is not hard to look up what I said if you are looking for the truth.

To me, Christmas is about the the birth of our saviour and honoring our kids.

April 18 2014 at 5:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
laedbac1

Santa is NOT the reason for the season. The birth of our savior Jesus Christ is.

December 14 2012 at 6:01 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to laedbac1's comment
epicboyz

lol, you don't even know the origins of xmas.

June 14 2013 at 2:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
SAUNDERS

I was Santa for about 20 years, enjoyed 99% of it (won't do Cub Scouts, leaders do not control them). I did parties and Christmas Eve visits, I had more fun than the kids. Parents loved how I handled the kids and myself. My wife went along as Ms Santa Claus which really helps while the kids take their turn visiting me. After doing the same family for a couple of years the parents provided mke a Naughty or Nice report for me to talk about with the kids. I now have trouble getting around, usually have a cane, so no longer except for grandkids. Only wish I could still be Santa.

December 14 2012 at 2:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dytimmys

The guy in the video is CREEPY

December 13 2012 at 8:11 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
harolddundee

Ho ho ho

December 13 2012 at 8:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
santasline

I've been santa every year since 88 and hardly ever had trouble with anyone and never regreted one min.

December 13 2012 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
redroad9

This is my 7th season with a Santa suit. I don't look for jobs but Vol for it at the Legion and other places. The worst ones are some kid 13 or so and does not want to sit in Santa lap. One was almost 6 ft and close to 200 lbs. Just drops dead weight in my lap. It was painful but no one eve corrects him. Most want me to do it for free and the suit cost well over $300. and I have to get it cleaned every year. So far I have not made what the suit cost.

December 13 2012 at 11:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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