All year I’m a Professional Santa Claus. Here’s how I got started after I retired.

  • Michael Facherty, now 71, retired from IT after a career and plays Santa year-round.
  • He once travelled the UK with reindeer to deliver groceries to contestants.
  • He attended Santa School, where he learned how to say “merry christmas” in many languages.

This essay is based upon a conversation with Michael Facherty (a 71-year old professional Santa based in Henley UK). It has been edited for clarity and length.

My son’s school was the first place I was Santa. I was in my 30s. It was a struggle for me when I first joined the PTA. But, I found that I loved it.

Later, the insurance company I worked for wanted a Santa Claus for a children’s party. I was a bit overweight and had a beard so they asked me. I jumped at it.

I retired 11 years back. A friend and actress was also working in a grotto, which required a Santa. I would enter a pretend chimney to tell stories to children.

I saw a documentary called “Bad Santas” on TV. It showed how Ministry of Fun took three unemployed men and tried to make Santas out of them. So I reached out to the agency and was invited to their next Santa School.

It’s a training session for new Santa helpers, and a refresher class for those who have been working for Santa for a while. It taught you about the most loved toys of the year, the names and pronunciations of the reindeer. People love it when you address them in their native language.

Now, at age 71, I work throughout the year

The bulk of the work is done over a period of 10 weeks, which runs from mid-October through Christmas. I am a storyteller, actor, and storyteller for the rest of the year.

From November through Christmas, I have gigs almost every day this year.

Gigs can vary in length greatly: Anything from a 15-minute Zoom call or home visit to three hour recording advertisements to a 10-hour working day in a grotto, to a 3-hour recording of ads and a 3-hour recording home visit, gigs can range in length.

Zoom visits began during COVID. I was unable to do doorstep visits. It led me to do it internationally for people in America, Canada, and elsewhere throughout the year.

Although I have been primarily with two agencies, I also generate a lot my own work through word-of-mouth, repeat business, and inquiries after TV and press coverage.

One of the agencies I work with pays almost £1,000, which is around $1,200, for fake theatrical white beards, but mine is real. Many Santas, especially younger ones, wear a belly stuffer that hangs low over their shoulders. It doesn’t look right. The good thing about being old is that I have my own.

The amount I make as Santa varies.

Many of my charitable activities are free. In one week I did two gigs: a commercial gig paying £250, and a voluntary one collecting toys to gift to children in hospital.

An agency asked me to visit someone on Christmas Day, which I don’t really want to do, so I asked for at least £1,000 for me and £500 for my driver. If you really don’t want a job you should price high and hope that they don’t say yes.

Gigs with larger clients tend to be more lucrative. I once did an outdoor shoot at Gatwick Airport, London. An airplane pulled the sleigh. It was great fun. I was paid £250 for that one.

The most memorable corporate gig was when Morrisons, a supermarket chain sent me off for a week to travel the country with reindeer. They’re small for all the work they do, and how far they travel. I visited people who had won a Christmas draw to have their Christmas shopping delivered by Santa. That job paid around £600.

Being able to conceal the fact that you don’t know everything is key to being a good Santa.

If you don’t have the child’s details, you must find a way of getting them without making it clear that you don’t know their name. I’ll say something like “Oh, yes, it is you.” Aren’t your heights increasing? Remind me of your name — it’s not Jeremiah, is it?”

They then say, “No, it is Tom.”

“Tom, that’s it!”

Children can be very scared so I talk to the grown-ups. I ask the parent to place the child on my lap if the child is calm.

One of the most beautiful things about having a baby is when they aren’t afraid and just look up at you. This makes for a beautiful photo.

It’s important to remember as a professional Santa that it’s not about you or the grown-ups — it’s about a child meeting the “real” Santa, and it’s your job to make it a special experience for them.

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