Good news for Santa Claus – he’s had a bit of a pay hike this year: “St. Nick’s salary should be $139,924 in 2014 — up more than $2,000 from last year’s estimated pay of $137,795.” These calculations are from Insure.com’s annual Santa Index, which is based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Santa is categorized as being “an industrial engineer managing a North Pole toy factory.”
Although the duties of an industrial engineer are the largest part of Santa’s job, his pay is actually comprised of the going rate for 14 additional essential functions and the number of associated hours he spends each week on those functions. Here’s a sampling:

  • Professional shopper / Sales and Related Workers, All Other
  • Labor negotiator (with the elves) / Labor Relations Specialists
  • Investigator (knows if you’ve been good or bad) / Private Detectives and Investigators
  • Sleigh pilot / Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers
  • Cookie taster / Agricultural Inspectors

Of course, the $139k pay rate is for the real Santa. Some of the mall stand-ins earn considerably less:

“Mall Santas in Southern California can make between $6,000 and $8,000 during the holiday season, Erwin says. “But doing so often requires them to work hundreds of hours.”

Corporate, private or municipal events pay more per hour, but the events don’t last as long as work shifts at the mall. Pay depends on the client list. Erwin says he typically earns between $8,000 and $10,000 for 60 to 90 hours of performing. He also does film work, but says with the time he spends traveling to auditions and call-backs, “Most years it seems I’m spending $1 for every two or three I earn.”

Most professional Santas also do many appearances for free for charities.”

As with any job, the essential functions are only part and parcel of what’s needed. The job requires a gentle and jolly disposition, a hearty belly laugh and quite a bit of patience. As one Santa puts it, “And you have to believe in your own heart because some kids will challenge you and say you aren’t really Santa. You have to really believe in yourself that you are Santa.”
To learn more about what it takes to have the job of Santa, we turn to Jack Broom of the Seattle Times, who offers a delightful inside look at the magic of wearing the red suit. In the article, he interviews several Santas who describe the job: “Magic, wonder and awe. Talk to those who spend parts of the holiday season in Santa garb and you’ll hear the experience described as a role, a gig, an honor, a responsibility — even a calling.”
He also discusses some of the nuts and bolts of the job:

“Santas typically provide their own suits, although a store or a mall might provide a Santa suit for a consistent look. Santas pay for insurance, travel expenses and often for the treats and gifts they hand out.

Santas working in malls and stores are typically paid by the hour, often by the photographer running the Santa display, rather than by the store.”

In a similar vein, Kate Hill has written Confessions of a store Santa for ABC Australia. Her story talks about some of the job hazards (think bodily fluids) and the liability issues that require a higher level of political correctness.

“Everyone must have a working with children check and kids are no longer allowed to perch on Santa’s knee, but are required to sit beside him.

“The only ones I hold are babies up until about nine months,” said Mr Jones.

Both his hands have to be on show while a child is with him and cuddling is still okay, but Mr Jones has to angle his body away from the children.

Mr Jones said the changes are sad but necessary, designed to protect both parties.”

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