Job diary: I work as a mall Santa during the holidays. This year, I’ve pivoted to virtual Santa visits and Zoom chats to spread cheer to kids at home.

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Bob Twaites has worked as a Santa for 10 years near his home by Vancouver Island in Canada. Bob Twaites
  • For nearly 10 years, Bob Twaites has worked as a Santa at community events, upscale malls, and corporate gigs near his hometown outside of Vancouver Island, Canada.
  • Due to rising COVID-19 cases where he lives, the mall he usually works at decided to cancel all Santa events this winter.
  • Now, Twaites has pivoted to offering Santa visits virtually through pre-recorded videos, Zoom meetings, and Facebook video chats.
  • Twaites says he’s happy to be offering virtual visits to reach more kids, and takes pride in his responsibility to help children feel valued and noticed during a stressful year.
  • This is what his job is like, as told to freelance writer Sarah Bence.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

I never set out to become Santa, but it has now been a joy in my life for nearly a decade.

I’ve worked on and off the stage for many years, mainly performing as a clown at events and parties. About 10 years ago, I started seeing job applications for the role of Santa Claus, and I thought that my clown experience made me a good match.

In the beginning, I worked with just a fake beard and a simple suit.

As time went by, I kept getting offered rather lucrative jobs. I used an online booking platform called Gigsalad to get matched with one-time Santa gigs, and I also started working for an upscale mall on a contract each November and December.

After finding success working as Santa, I decided to invest more into my costume.

Now, I have three suits that are red velvet and custom-made. I wear high leather engineer’s boots, and a great big harness leather belt that a friend who is a saddle maker made for me, with a cast bronze reindeer buckle.

I also bleach my natural beard to make it Santa-white, and I wear a little bit of a glimmering eye makeup for an added sparkle.

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However good my costume is, I’ve found it’s the performance skills that get me through.

Bob Twaites
Twaites says his performance experience as a clown helps him connect with kids as Santa. Bob Twaites

When a child looks in your eyes, they’re always a little suspicious. There’s a certain point where no matter how good your costume is, you have to be perfect in that moment to truly become Santa in their eyes.

The business model of being Santa is interesting and can make you good money if you put in the work.

When is a time when corporate worlds say “We need a clown, and we want to pay him really well?” Well, Santa is one of those times.

I found that I could do what I wanted, which was to give joy to children, and the corporate side could get what they wanted, which was a fancier-than-normal Santa.

At the upscale mall where I’ve worked in years past, we set up around the middle of November and began six-hour days. In December, we went up to seven days a week and 10-hour shifts. I usually saw several thousand kids each season.

This year, I’d organised a COVID-safe plan with the mall I normally work at. However, as the number of cases went up in our region outside of Vancouver, the mall very sensibly decided they couldn’t have Santa this year.

I found myself in a situation where I hadn’t booked many private gigs, and I no longer had the mall gig. So, I decided to take Santa virtual.

This year, I’m offering Santa experience through Zoom, Facebook chat, and personalised videos.

Bob Twaites
Twaites offers virtual Zoom sessions and personalised videos as Santa. Bob Twaites

I’ve made these little videos in past years, but never dreamed of charging for them. Mostly, I created them for friends whose kids couldn’t make it to a Santa event.

I charge around $US50 for Santa videos, same as the old price point for Santa photo packages at the mall.

If families want to add in extras, such as me writing a letter to them with a Turkey feather quill, stamping it with my Santa stamp, and sending it to them in the mail.

I also offer three levels of virtual Santa visits. The basic level is a free Zoom hangout with Santa, because I want to remain accessible — I won’t deny children just because their parents aren’t in a position to spend a lot of money this year. The second level is the personalised video, and the third level is a Zoom session with the whole family.

I also ask parents to fill out a paragraph of information before I create the videos, with details including what their roofing looks like. I always describe how I get into the home in great detail to the children. If they don’t have a chimney, I know where the conduits go in and how to materialise through them. I baffle the children with this and it’s always a joy to see their reactions.

I also find out about any pets that Santa might run into, and anything else like Christmas decorations, gifts, or pictures on the fridge.

I live in a small island community outside Vancouver, and there are lots of parent groups on Facebook for this region. I have a lovely relationship with these parents, so I mainly advertise by posting “Here’s how to find Santa Bob.” I’ve also just created an Instagram for Santa Bob, and I have a Santa Bob email address for bookings.

I am definitely losing revenue this year, so I hope to continue virtual Santa visits after Christmas that are “quality control” checkups. There’s always some toy with no batteries, and I’ll need to see those and follow it up with the elves. I think that could be a great deal of fun.

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A lot of my job as Santa is listening to kids and providing empathetic responses to their concerns.

A lot of children are nervous to sit with Santa. The nice thing about virtual visits is the kids are in their own home, so they feel more secure, which can help me make deeper connections with them.

Children say amazing things to Santa. One of the most common is about a beloved pet who has died. Or they will talk about sick parents or grandparents.

This year more than ever, there are kids who will be missing seeing their grandparents, or coping with the grief and confusion of 2020. I value this responsibility of being Santa to take time and listen to what they’re going through in any way I can.

Through virtual Santa visits during the pandemic or any other crisis, I’m glad I can continue to offer this support when it’s needed. My hope is that the kids who see my videos and experience Santa can feel that they are loved and noticed.