Most kids believe in Santa Claus at some point. Adults have fond memories of sitting on the lap of a mall Santa and whispering into his ear their greatest desires: action figures, dolls, motor bikes and everything in between. There were always a few kids who couldn’t see a Santa Claus without bawling their eyes out and some who had that insatiable urge to tug his beard to see if, in fact, it was the real-life, no-foolin’ St. Nicholas.
Now that you’re older and hopefully a little wiser, you know the truth about Santa. Spoiler alert: He probably isn’t real. But parents still enjoy the enchantment, wonder and imagination which turns a regular mall Santa Claus into a truly magical person. Of course, all parents know that the mall Santa has faults, a personal life, maybe a failed marriage and kids of his own. In short: they’re all just people, most of whom are just trying to make a living.
A mall Santa is a job like anything else. New documentaries and Santa online confessions make this a crystal clear reality. They show in-depth profiles of Santa fanatics around the United States and how they prepare for the season of disbelief, and who they really are beneath the red sash.
After learning the secrets of mall Santas, a little part of you will probably wish you hadn’t. The following fifteen bizarre facts may make your childhood look a little different…
15. Santa Claus Churches
According to the 2014 documentary I Am Santa Claus, some mall Santas go to Christian churches set up specifically for Santa Claus. Even the priests are dressed as Santa with red capes, beards and all. It’s nice to know there are Santas dedicated to their religion, but to many it’s a little strange and even disrespectful.
14. Rule #1: Never Make Promises
There are a few rules-of-thumb that most mall Santas follow to the letter. Thousands of children ask for gifts and think they will be delivered. But mall Santa refuses to promise anything. Parents are big fans of this rule. After all, they’re the ones who are doing the gift buying — the last thing they want to do is disappointment their child on Christmas Day not giving a gift Santa promised they would get.
13. They Hate Some Parents
Speaking of parents, some Santas hate them. They might be well-meaning, but some parents simply get in the way and take too long to get their child through the queue. They also forget that a mall Santa is not allowed to discipline children or tell them what to do—that’s the parent’s job. If parents don’t control their children, no one else will, and it slows things down and gets on Santa’s jolly ol’ nerves.
12. Jewish Santas
Christmas is predominately a Christian practice, but Santa Claus is an international figure who represents fundamental values that apply to all religious faiths. Santa Claus Frank Pascuzzi from the documentary I Am Santa is Jewish, and there are thousands of others. Frank even legally changed his name to Santa Claus. Every year he dyes his black hair and beard a snow-white to experience the joy of being Santa on his favourite holiday.
11. Special Santa Clubs
Some people are so dedicated to being Santa Claus 365 days a year, they have set up annual clubs and events where they can all gather as one homogenous Santa group. They barbecue, dance, drink and share stories of their Christmas experiences. The thought of hundreds of large, bearded, old men all in one place is a little off-putting. Isn’t there supposed to be only one Santa?
10. Shocking Personal Lives
From bikers to swinger club managers, mall Santas have a variety of personal lives when they’re not sitting in that velvet chair. Some are, of course, members of the LGBT community and have no shame admitting that they frequent annual “Bear Competitions” where the biggest, hairiest men compete for the championship title. Christmas is all about being inclusive of everyone regardless of their lifestyle, but St. Nicholas in a sex club is not exactly the first image that comes to mind when people think of Santa and his little elves.
9. School for Santa
Remember Rule #1? Many people in the trade learn how to be a good mall Santa with years of experience. For others, they take classes in a school. Mall Santa schools teach would-be Santas how to hold children, how to put them on their lap, and what they can and can not say. The original Santa would never have to go to a school to learn how to be, basically, the happiest man on earth, but in a vocation where parent’s children are involved, it’s a safe bet for everyone else.
8. Alone On Christmas Day
Mall Santas get paid to put on the suit and take dozens of photos with hundreds of children a day. Although many enjoy the experience of bringing joy and happiness, it’s still a job, and one of the only ones that doesn’t have a day off on Christmas Day. Many mall Santas take contracts out of town or even out of state, so they are often away from their families during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Ironically, they are usually all alone with no one to give them a gift.
7. Extreme Beard Makeovers
Perfect white beard? Impossible! Many Santas use wigs or artificial beards to replicate the snow-white colour and curly volume of the real thing. They don’t always want to, but because they are either too young or not old enough to grow a white beard, many dedicated Santas bleach theirs white. It may not seem like much, but bleaching hair can be a painful process, especially when they have to do it multiple times to get the color just right. Some Santas do it year-round, month after month, even when they’re not on the job.
6. $3K For Wigs and Cosmetics
There’s more to being Santa than just having a few extra pounds. To make the experience as real as possible, they also need costumes, props (glasses), and hair white as snow. To get their contract season after season, would-be Santas spend up to $3,000 for costumes, cosmetics and hair stylists to transform them into jolly old St. Nick.
5. They Sweat Profusely
Don’t judge them too hard, but many Santas sweat almost all the time. It’s hard to blame them. Wearing a heavy wool or polyester suite, a hat and long hair under hot photo lights would make anyone break out into sweats. Still, it’s hard to imagine the real Santa ever sweating, and it definitely takes away from the fantasy. Ho-ho-ho, I’m hot as hell over here!
4. Daily Photo Quota
Mall Santas sign a contract with specific details like their pay rate, accommodations, and length of the season. Often included in that contract is a daily photo quota with children and parents. Malls are a business and the biggest factor in hiring a mall Santa is to attract people to their stores and to sell as many photographs as possible. To make their quota, Santas are likely to rush things along so they don’t end up in hot water with the boss.
3. $100 Per Hour
Unlike the real Santa Claus who gets paid with the happiness of children and cookies, mall Santas don’t do all that work for free. If they are expected to be away from friends and family during the holidays, they need to get paid. They certainly don’t make peanuts, either. Depending on the location, a mall Santa can make up to $100 per hour, and that’s on top of their room-and-board. Some surveys say they can make up to $175 per hour. That’s not a bad wage for up to 8 weeks of work.
2. 30K Children Per Day
One season for a mall Santa can last between 4 to 8 weeks. In that time, they are likely to meet up to 30,000 kids who are all crying, grabbing, demanding and maybe even being nice once in a while. For example, in a period of 6 weeks, that’s 714 children per day, depending on the location. That is a lot of holding, crying and beard tugging. Don’t be surprised if your local mall Santa is in a bad mood around closing time.
1. Secret Celebrity Santas
The documentary I Am Santa Claus was produced by former wrestler Mick Foley. He loves Christmas so much he has a room in his home dedicated to the holiday year-round. He also loves being Santa any time he can. He demanded Santa be there when he was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Part of the documentary showed Foley becoming Santa at a Santa’s Village in New Hampshire. But he did it in secrecy. His costume and act was so convincing, the children had no idea. The best part was that it wasn’t just a photo-op — he actually enjoyed it!