From police-grade cooling vest to $750 beard, here’s what it takes to make a living as Santa

The business of being Santa involves a lot more than simply putting on a suit.

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The business of being Santa involves a lot more than simply putting on a suit.
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Courtesy of Jim Manning

Santa Jim understands the value of a top-notch beard – no straggly, wispy nonsense or anything that could easily get pulled off.

Instead, he imports his beard, which ties on in three places, from Switzerland for a whopping $750.

To Santa Jim, it’s worth every penny.

According to this professional, private events Santa Claus – Jim Manning when he’s out of the red suit – a lot more goes into playing Santa than simply showing up, finding the nearest couch, and letting kids sit on your lap.

Below, Manning shares more about the business of being Santa:


First: Create an online presence

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Courtesy of Jim Manning

In 2004 I grabbed the domain name SantaBoston.com, and that’s really been what’s sent a lot of the Santa Claus traffic to me. The website presence has been important, and I’ve added social-media presence over the years. I’m now seeing direct social-media results – people see me on Instagram and they’re hiring me from that. But the website is still the No. 1 way people contact me.

And having a mobile-friendly website has been huge. My website wasn’t mobile-friendly until about three years ago. Now about 78% of people look at my website on their phones or their iPads.

The content that goes on the website is important, too. There are a lot of Santa Clauses who have websites, and fortunately I’ve had a lot of them helping me in terms of what the site needs.

People want to see … Do you look good as Santa? Do you seem trustworthy? And what are your prices? And you don’t put your prices on your website, because that’s just not something you do. But people want all that information, and they want it quickly, and they’re going to decide whether to reach out to you from that.


Then, start booking a year in advance

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Courtesy of Jim Manning

The busy season is December, Thanksgiving to Christmas. We start receiving calls and emails in August to book events. Some people will book from the year before. But the real majority of the requests start coming in October and November. And a lot of last-minute requests come in, too. The real season starts to ramp up after Thanksgiving.

The first week of December is more promotional work – a lot of photo shoots. I did a photo shoot for Legal Sea Foods, where they had me as Santa Claus taking photos of their clam chowder or their lobster. Drug stores, car dealerships – they’ll bring me in to set the tone for the season and whatnot.

Then toward the middle of December, that’s when I start getting into more corporate parties, private parties. And then as we get closer to Christmas Eve, the majority of my events are parties in people’s homes.

Christmas Eve is the busiest day. I’ll do 10 appearances. This year, my first visit is at 11 a.m. and my last visit is scheduled for 9 p.m.

Most weekdays are two to three visits. Weekends are much busier. Sunday I did eight different visits. I’ll have five or six days off somewhere in between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Santa Jim charges $499 for a visit, and does upwards of 80 visits during the season.


Be sure to suit up

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Courtesy of Jim Manning

I’ve also got a lot of my own costs. This isn’t a part-time thing for me – this is my full-time gig. So I have an operations manager, and a lot of money goes into advertising and promotions.

I spend over a hundred dollars on gloves every year. My dry-cleaning bills are pretty expensive.

The gloves I wear are band gloves that have little grips on them. Why do they have grips on them? Because when I’m turning the pages of “The Night Before Christmas” I don’t have to fumble around. To me, details like this are super important.

The wigs and beards and mustaches? A friend of mine imports them from Switzerland. One wig, beard, mustache set costs me about $750, and I have five of them, which I’ve built up over the course of a few years.

My beard is tied on in three different spots. It’s really beautiful, and children under the age of 8 have a tough time distinguishing between my beard and a real beard.

The belt cost me $400 – that was handmade from a leather maker in Montana, which a big, gold-brass buckle.

I’ve got a cooling vest, which law-enforcement officers use to stay cool, because I’m playing Santa Claus for upwards of 10 hours. I’ve got the fat suit.

I spend over $300 a year on dry cleaning with all my suits. I’ve got five suits that I keep in regular rotation. So pretty much as soon as I wear a suit I’m dropping it off at the dry cleaners and I’m keeping them on a constant rotation because I want to look as fresh as possible.

Driving-wise, this year I’m driving 75 hours, probably over 3,000 miles. So there’s gas, tolls, and so forth.

Then there’s food. Normally I cook for myself and my wife, but I don’t have time for the month of December, so I end up eating out a lot, doing take-out. I tried finding a meal-delivery service. But at the end of the day, it’s a lot of grab-and-go.


Finally, you’ve got to sell it

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Courtesy of Jim Manning

Anybody can put on a suit and become Santa, but most people shouldn’t be Santa. You have to have a disposition for it, and you have to love kids. Not just the cute 4-year-olds who sit on your lap and give you a big smile, but you have to love the kid who’s 2 years old and screaming and Mom looks like she’s about to go nuts. You still have to love them and make sure they have a good experience.

You have to be a performer. Santa Claus puts on a show.

I’ve attended two different Santa Claus schools, and those were really good. But a lot of the education just comes from being Santa Claus.

Being a full-time children’s entertainer, I know how to relate to kids year-round, and there are a lot of important child-management skills you learn there.

And then I like watching “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Santa Claus” one and two. There are some good movies out there. Obviously not “Bad Santa” – that would not be a role model for Santa.

And a lot of it comes down to thinking, “If I’m 6 years old, what would Santa be like?” And that’s the character I try to portray.