Santa Claus Unwrapped: The Reality of Professional Santas for Hire

According to National Santas’s 2023 Red Suit Survey, an estimated 10,000 Santa Clauses exist throughout the United States. However, portraying Santa Claus is much more than a fuzzy white beard and a big red coat.

Santa Claus is responsible for providing Yuletide cheer to millions of children each Christmas season, a job perhaps easier than it seems.

Blake Ellege, AKA the Appalachian Santa, is one of the many Santas within the U.S. giving good tidings. He says to be a Santa, one must truly have a passion for children.

"I always say you have to have a love for interacting with children and wanting to create magic in the minds and hearts of children," Ellege tells Healthnews. "You are given a responsibility to portray a figure that is the ultimate embodiment of Christmas magic. You carry a huge responsibility."

Life of Santa
Image by Cherish Photography of Blake Ellege

How to be Santa Claus

The days of becoming Santa Claus by simply appearing as the character are over. Now, it takes extensive training to enter the stage as Christmas’s favorite celebrity. Ellege is a member of the Red Suit Society, a group of nearly 5,000 Santas who have completed training through the International University of Santa Claus or School4Santa, founded by National Santa (Connagahan).

In Santa training, future St. Nicks learn the basics of the role, how to set up photos, talk with children, how to handle those who don’t believe in Santa, and other keys to becoming the holiday icon. The School4Santa includes classes on cruises during the year throughout the Caribbean,

Ellege holds a master's degree in opera and theatre performance, which he believes helps create a truly immersive Santa experience. He also is an American Idol Golden Ticket Winner, Grammy member, and international recording artist. The ability to belt some tunes also helps any Santa ring in the Christmas season.

Instead of the same old red coat and red hat, Ellege says he often goes for a more realistic than fantasy-appearing approach for his outfit to help connect with children. For Ellege, being Santa is more than just living a fantasy.

"I started viewing my portrayal as Santa as a vocation and ministry because I am there for those children in those difficult times," Ellege says. "I can reassure and comfort in the form of, 'I want you to know Santa loves you very much, and all of the elves, Mrs. Claus, and I at the North Pole are going to send as much Christmas magic as possible so things will be better soon.'"

Handling children as Santa Claus

Dealing with children as Santa Claus can be an unsanitary task. The Red Suit Survey, which includes 380 responses from different Santas, finds that 30% of Santas were urinated on by children last Christmas season. Additionally, 44.3% of Santas say they were coughed on as much as 15 times each day.

Ellege is a firm believer in holistic medicine and has engaged with holistic practices for the last 20 years. He says he boosts his immune season throughout the year with echinacea, elderberry, black pepper turmeric, b-12 vitamins, and liposomal vitamin C.

"Staying healthy is important throughout the year but more important during Santa season," Ellege says. "I tend to get a live sniffle throughout the season, but with COVID-19 and everything, we test extremely frequently before and after travel engagements, so we are as safe as possible."

As cases rise throughout the country for COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Santas need to stay safe from this triple threat.

Along with dealing with sick children, Santas are also responsible for providing relief to children who lack the Christmas magic at home. Ellege says it is not unusual to have a child sit on his lap who is struggling for a solid family foundation or necessities. In a way, Santas are counselors that a child can turn to in a vulnerable moment, benefiting the mental health of the eager believer.

"About 25 to 30% of the time, a child says I want mommy or daddy to come back home, or I want mommy and daddy to stop fighting. Or, I would like some food for Christmas instead of toys. Or, I want grandma or grandpa to come back from heaven to spend Christmas with us. With the high volume of visits I do, we experience a lot of children who are going through a lot of difficult situations at such an early age," says Ellege.

Ellege’s top wishlist requests:

  • Barbie Dreamhouse
  • Hatchimals
  • Toy dinosaur
  • Hot Wheels
Professional Santa
Image by Cherish Photography of Blake Ellege

Sitting on Santa’s lap

For some parents, those crying pictures of their toddler dripping in tears on Santa’s lap are priceless. Nonetheless, some children do experience trauma from being around Santa Claus. Ellege says it is important for children to engage with Santa Claus before taking wishlists on his lap.

"I recommend parents be mindful of their children’s emotions. If the child is crying and the parent wants a crying picture – fine. But, if they have an older child and they are genuinely afraid of Santa, I encourage them to take time during the visit so the child can become comfortable with Santa," advises Ellege. "At the end of the day, an experience a child has with Santa is paramount over a photograph. Establishing that magic is what means the most."

In the past, there have been calls to ban children from sitting on Santa’s lap over fears of child abuse. Ellege says in today’s society, each Santa Claus should possess a background check to prove their ability to work with children.

As for sitting on Santas’s lap, Ellege notes it is hard for little children to be sitting on a chair, but when kids are older — he leaves the choice up to them. He believes children feeling comfortable is Santa’s top priority.

Hiring a top-tier Santa Claus

As a Santa Claus, Ellege says his Christmas Season often begins after Halloween. For those eyeing a Santa Claus, you are going to need to inquire in the summertime before Santas’s schedule fills up. Last-minute hires for Santa Claus at this stage are unlikely. All Santas should be able to provide a copy of liability insurance and a background check before the signing of an agreement.

Santa Claus is not just for photos at the mall, he can also bring in the Christmas cheer at home or in the work office. Ellege is one of many Santas who offers services for Christmas Eve visits, office parties, storytelling, tree lighting ceremonies, and more.

A top Santa does come with a price tag. 'Santa' Ed Taylor is a Santa Claus for hire in the southern California area who has garnered attention from the host of MTV’s Ridiculousness, Rob Dydrek. According to his website, Taylor charges $300 for 30 minutes and $150 for each additional half-hour during the prime season of November 11 - December 23. Prices increase for Christmas Eve and Christmas festivities. The World Wide Santa Clause Network says Santa Claus actors typically range from $500 to $750.

If you choose to see him at the mall, hire him for a party, or leave out some cookies on Christmas Eve, the magic of Santa is about to everywhere.

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