Does Santa Claus get employee benefits?

He listens to Christmas wishes, answers questions about the North Pole, Mrs. Claus and his elves and patiently takes pictures with cranky children and wailing babies. And he does it all with cheer.

Santa Claus is coming to town, but the truth is, he ain’t free.

In Canada, people working as Santa Claus can earn from $15 to $500 per hour, says Rozmin Watson, founder of Hire a Santa, a staffing agency in British Columbia. The pay range is determined by many factors, including the employer and the type of event, she says.

Santa Clauses who don’t make much usually don’t have a lot of experience and aren’t expected to arrive all decked out, says Watson. They may buy a suit for under a hundred dollars and usually work at strip malls.

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On the other side of the spectrum, Santa Clauses who make hundreds per hour typically work at corporate events and have decades of experience, she says. They usually spend thousands on their costumes and come to work dressed in Santa gear. Some even attend Santa school where they learn the nuances of getting into character.

An online search of Santa Claus jobs in Canada shows several vacancies with hourly wages that range from $17 to $20. The recruiters are usually large staffing firms and photo studios that deploy Santa Clauses all over the country.

But employers vary as well and can include homeowners’ associations, families and individuals, says Mitch Allen, founder of Hire Santa, a U.S. firm that hires about 400 Santa Clauses every year. ”A business will look for a Santa to help associate their brand with Christmas and to draw traffic to a specific location,” he says.

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In the U.S., Santa Clauses that work in retail centres for 300 hours over six weeks typically make $15 to $35 per hour, says Allen. Those who work on Christmas Eve can make anywhere from $200 to $300 for every 30 to 60 minutes, and the ones that visit companies or preschools make $75 to $100 per hour.

Since most people who work as Santa Claus are retired or rely on another job for their primary source of income, it’s rare for them to receive any employee benefits, says Allen.

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While playing Santa Claus seems like a fairly easy job, it’s harder than it looks, he adds. “Being energetic and jolly for a really long time is tiring.”

Working conditions can also be uncomfortable, says Allen. Some Santas have to deal with bad weather if they work outside. And for many of those who work inside, donning a big heavy suit is stifling, he says. “They deal with being hot and so they need to make sure they keep hydrated.”

Contrary to popular opinion, it’s “very difficult” to find the right candidate for the job, says Watson, who looks for people with a passion for the role. Finding the right fit is essential because if employees decide to quit just days after starting a gig, staffing agencies are left scrambling for a replacement who can fill a niche role, she says. “It’s not an easy replacement.”

“We recruit all year round and work really hard at finding the right candidate as best as we can,” says Watson.

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Many companies try to book Santa Clauses last minute and don’t realize how far ahead they need to make the request, says Allen. People should be reserving a Santa in October or November if they want a visit during the weekend right before Christmas, he says. As for malls and retail centres that need a Santa Claus for the whole season, they should be booking during the first quarter of the year.