Beyond the Beard: The Life of a Professional Santa

After the harrowing blur of tinsel and seasonal stress, most are relieved to say sayonara to St. Nick. Unless you're Santa himself.

Johnathon B. (who will not reveal his full name due to some Santa hate mail) has been dressing up as Santa Claus since elementary school. "Christmas was always very big in my home." He's been a professional Santa for eight years.

Johnathon, a conservatory-trained opera singer and full-time voice and music tutor, will don the suit for corporate events, but focuses on charities like Toys for Tots and Make-A-Wish Foundation. He charges between $300 and $3,000 for an appearance, depending on how long they need his ho ho ho.

Johnathon's first appearances begin in late October, and when the Santa smoke clears at the end of December, he'll have knocked out 50-some events. "When I'm in San Francisco around Christmas, my biggest concern, victory, and joy is a parking spot," he says. "As Santa, I'm not coming in on BART."

While Johnathon says the "VIP stuff" like meeting the Raiderettes or Miss America is all well and good, "It's the smaller moments — a child confiding they want Dad home for Christmas — that really catch you off guard."

It also means setting boundaries. "We will not pose in a provocative way, and please put down your drink before you take a picture. And don't pull the beard; it hurts."

Even after Christmas, Johnathon's not slowing his sleigh. "Portraying Santa is never a seasonal job. The suit will be professionally cleaned and stored, and I start planning for next year."

Johnathon's custom-designed suit, complete with glinting brass buttons and intricate embroidery, cost about $5,000. Until this year, he used a "very expensive" human-and-yak-hair beard that set him back a pretty penny. Only in his late 30s — his actual beard is a "nice thick dark brown" — he says his decision to become a Real Bearded Santa was a serious undertaking.

"It's a long process and requires upkeep every few days to hide the roots. I have more products than my wife!" But the results are convincing. "I've been given the senior discount a few times without asking."

Johnathon did a post-Christmas shave and is "looking more my age," but come January, the beard will return to his face.

Santa J says he doesn't fall prey to post-Christmas blues; he uses Clausnet.com — an international online forum of professional Santas — to swap tales and advice.

"While I hear January can be a bit depressing for many that portray Santa, that's not the case with me. The season is joy-filled," he says. "Afterward, when I've taken off the suit, it might hit me how exhausted I am, but Santa doesn't have time to be tired. This is not a game."

 
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