Ho-ho-how much? The high price of being Santa

A suit and beard alone can cost a mall or store Kriss Kringle as much as $3,000.

By Jason Notte Dec 14, 2012 10:52AM

Image: Santa Claus (John Lund/Jupiterimages)Forget the broad face, round belly, North Pole real estate and reindeer ranching. If you want to be a great Santa this Christmas, you'll have to pony up at least $4,000.

No kid's going to fall for the $50 Santa suit from the discount store. As folks in the Santa business told MarketWatch earlier this week, the big man's fuzzy red suit can cost anywhere from $400 to $2,000 depending on just how flashy he wants it to be.

That's all before Santa starts accessorizing. According to Jennifer Andrews, who plays "Auntie Claus" at the Victor Nevada Santa School in Calgary, a high-quality pair of Santa boots costs about $800, a good version of his broad belt is another $300 to $350 and white leather gloves are another $300. That doesn't include the cost of white cotton gloves for handling germy kids, or the beard.

Stephen Patterson, "Chief Santa" for Kriss Kringle Outfitters and director of the Society of Santa, a nonprofit fraternal organization for Santas and other Christmas workers, told Joe Mont at MSN partner TheStreet that "a good theatrical beard, with woven yak hair, is going to run you $1,100 or $12,000." Even if Santas have their own whiskers, it can cost about $600 to keep them perfectly white.

This all assumes that a working Santa doesn't keep a backup suit around in case kids inevitably have an accident. The Kringle Group, a collection of Santa- and Christmas-related companies and websites, says the average Santa has at least two suits. Almost 20% have four to six of them tucked away in case of emergency.

With good reason. At times, Santa is flat-out gross. According to the Kringle Group, 75% of Santas get sneezed on at least once a day, 44% are sneezed or coughed upon up to 15 times a day, while nearly a third have had a child relieve his or herself in their lap.

Some Santas have even paid for the privilege. While the Kringle Group survey says 90% of Santas are college educated and may also fork over $1,000 or more to attend Santa schools. The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, for example, opened in 1937 in Albion, N.Y., was named for the former Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade Santa and is the longest continuously running Santa Claus School in the world. Its stated goal is to lay down "a set of more professional standards for department store Santas."

"There are other Santa schools. But this one carries a history that leads many here to describe it as the Harvard of the genre and to list it prominently on their resumes and business cards," according to the school's website.

The course list includes a history of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus, Santa dressing and use of make-up, "Santa sign language," study of live reindeer and "Santa flight lessons."

Does it pay off? Meh. Patterson told TheStreet that a mall Santa can expect to make $10 to $80 per hour, while the top Santas in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago can make between $450 to $800 per appearance. Susen Mesco, director of American Events and Promotions in Denver, says the average Santa might make $8,000 to $15,000 during the holiday season, while particularly good ones can rake in as much as $80,000.

That's assuming a would-be Santa finds work. The recession took its toll on professional Santas, too, as many are stuck without a chair to sit on even as seasonal hiring grows 3% this year. That's understandable for the 7% of Santas that the folks at PreEmploy.com say have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor, but its downright discouraging for the average Santa signing up for a season of 12-hour workdays and endless lines of sick and disgruntled kids.

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