Some Santas require pillows and phony facial hair. A lucky few live the part year-round, complete with noses like cherries and (this is critical) the beard.
“There aren’t that many people who have the real beards,” says Judi Lapin, who recruits Santas for Shoreline Village in Long Beach. There are, in fact, only about 30 authentic Nicks in the Los Angeles/Orange County area, estimates agent Dixie Lee, who handles about 13 of them, and their salaries could keep a lot of reindeer in hay. Lee’s Santas make approximately $4,000 to $10,000 a season.
But being Santa takes dedication. For one thing, says Rob Eastman, who works as a handyman when he isn’t Santa, the beard requires a lot of maintenance--to get that special snowy effect, many Santas begin bleaching their whiskers a few months before Christmas. “It’s a major effort at the beauty parlor,” says Eastman. “The first time I had it done, it took 11 hours.”
But what really separates these Nicks from their ephemeral counterparts, says five-year veteran “Santa Bob” Von Fliss, is a jollity that comes from having kids come up and hug you at the grocery store in July.
“It’s a different level of playing Santa, " he says. “All year, people say to me, ‘I’ve never seen anyone who looks so much like Santa! You’ve got that twinkle!’ ” he laughs. “I think it’s the twinkle that puts you over the top.”