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TEAM ZOELLA NOVEMBER 22, 2021

What It’s Really Like To Be Kris Kringle & Buddy The Elf IRL

From how they stay in character all day when they’re not feeling their best to beard management, speaking Elfish and weird gift requests, here’s what it’s really like to play Kris Kringle and Buddy the Elf IRL - perks of the job, professional challenges ‘n’ all.

Playing Santa is a tough job but someone’s gotta do it. 

Smiling all day until your face hurts, overzealous children tugging your beard and pushy parents desperate to get the shot, there’s so much more to the role than eating mince pies, wearing a red suit and bellowing ho ho ho every now and again for the crowds. Behind every photo op is a long-suffering adult desperate for a mince pie, a cold can of Coke and a pay rise (probably). 

And the Elves don’t get off lightly either – let’s just say Will Ferrell sits on a throne of lies. 

The madness of the holiday season, the queues, the heat and the stroppy non-believers aside, there’s also the tender heart-warming moments that make dressing up as these legendary Christmas personalities totally worthwhile. 

From how they stay in character all day when they’re not feeling their best to beard management, speaking Elfish and weird gift requests, here’s what it’s really like to play Kris Kringle and Buddy the Elf in real life – perks of the job, professional challenges ‘n’ all.

Sammy Brooks

Sammy Brooks, 41, from Cambridge, has been a professional actor and entertainer for the last 25 years, performing in tribute shows across the UK. From grottos, light switch on events, home visits, video calls, office parties, voiceovers, school visits, musicals, you name it, this Santa Claus has been there, done that, got the red suit. Having always loved dressing up as a kid, putting on plays for his family and making grottos from the airing cupboard (who’s cutting onions in here?!), Sammy was quite frankly born to take on the role of good Saint Nick…

Being Santa for a living is an intriguing career. How did you get into this job? 

My mum, being a teacher at the time, got me a Santa suit that the school was throwing out, I was over the moon, I had my first “real” Santa suit! In my early teens I used to dress up to raise money for children in need and when I was 14 the local care home was having a charity Christmas fun day, so I went along in my Santa suit, the residents loved it, and so did I, that is when I got the bug, and I knew that I wanted to be Santa. I had been Santa on and off for a while and was now working as a professional actor, and when I got married, I purchased my first semi-professional Santa suit for a friend to wear at my Christmas themed wedding, but it wasn’t until I had children until I really became Santa, being asked by my wife to appear at the local toddler group Christmas party as Santa was my big comeback and it’s been crazy ever since.

What does a typical day as Santa look like? We’re guessing it’s not your average 9-5 gig…

Well, not one job is the same! I spend most of my days in my Santa studio, a room decked out to look like the north pole, all year round. I spend most of my time filming videos for clients, be it Santa advertising a product or a simple video for a child, then I head home and sit down to edit all the footage, it’s only when November comes around when I do any live Santa work. I could be appearing at a pub for say 60 people or at a light switch on for 20,000, it changes so much, lots of traveling is involved, mainly trains for me and I’m always in a hotel somewhere. Come mid-December I leave home to head out on tour in my “Santamime” basically a Santa show that tours the UK, the only thing I dislike about doing this is missing my family, I refuse to work after 2pm on Christmas eve because I have young children and still want to share the magic of Christmas with them so hurry home as fast as I can. 

What do you do for work when you’re not busy being a Christmas icon?

My Christmas work starts normally around the end of august, but when I’m not jingling my bells, I am an actor, singer, and children’s entertainer. I have toured the UK in tribute shows appearing as different people, it’s a job that I absolutely love and I’m very lucky to be able to do it.

On a scale of 1 – 10, how intense is it playing such a legendary character? You have big boots to fill! 

That’s a tricky question! Most of the time I think maybe a 3, but this is because I have training in acting and I have been doing it so long I can just slip into the part, what can be a bit more troublesome is having to glue a beard to your face for up to 5 hours a day, this can be hot and very uncomfortable, if you want to eat, you can forget it! I have to wait until all my Santa work is finished for the day and I’m back to me. 

Do you have to audition or attend Santa school? Talk us through the prep involved… 

I have never once auditioned to be Santa. I’m lucky that I have a good camera and showreel, at this time I’m lucky that people normally contact me for work. I’ve never attended a Santa school, but I do run one, “The Santa’s Workshop” is the UK’s only two-day Santa convention, and it’s my baby, I’m very proud of it. Santas learn all sorts from acting, makeup, costume, and we have stalls of Santa products you can buy, even Santa’s cookie aftershave, yes that’s a thing. 

Other than a naturally jolly disposition, what makes for a convincing Santa?

I think there are a few things that make for a convincing Santa, starting with the look, a good beard is a must, real! Great, but I prefer the “designer beards”. These are beards made from human hair or Yak hair, the same beards that you would see in a film or on stage, they can look so magical. A fantastic suit is a plus, I’m lucky to have one of the best Santa costume designers in the UK, Heidi Jane Tibbles, she also makes costumes for the West End and entertainment industry, but to me the most important thing is playing the part of Santa. I think the voice and mannerisms are so important. 

How do people you know react when you tell them what you do? 

Well for me, the people I meet are normally in the entertainment industry so they kind of get it, but my wife on the other hand finds it amusing when someone asks her what her husband does for a living. “Oh, he’s Santa” they often think of a classic Santa that you may see in a garden centre, so she then has to show them a video, that’s when they always reply with, “Oh! He is actually Santa!” They are pretty much always surprised when they actually meet me because I look nothing like my Santa in real life.

Does the job pay well? 

I’m at the stage in my Santa life when the pay is not too bad, But starting out, it can be a lot of work for not a massive payout, the standard fee for a Santa starting out in a grotto is between £12-£25 per hour.

What’s been the happiest reaction you’ve had from a kid?

There are so many, a lot I forget because I may see lots of kids in a day. My favourite reactions are actually from the grownups, if you can convince a grown-up that you are Santa you have cracked it! I love taking them back to being a kid again, and you can see it in their eyes, it’s a lovely moment.

What’s the most common present request you get?

It’s always the latest thing, Nintendo Switch was huge, lots of kids asked for one of those, including my own. I never promise a present, ever. We don’t know the situation and if they can afford a Nintendo, so I will always say, “I’ll see what I can do”

Have you had any funny/weird requests for gifts?

This year I have already had a request for a yellow truck with a rainbow on the side, and I sometimes have kids ask for say a pen, and I’ll reply with, anything else? And they say, nope, just a pen! Sometimes you get children asking for pets, this is a no, no, Santa can’t make living things.

We tend to assume it’s the children that might cause some challenging situations but how are the parents?!

I always try to perform for the parents as well as the children, I’m quite a cheeky Santa and do like a bit of a joke around, if you can entertain the parents, you know that they will recommend you to others for bookings. Once in a grotto I received a letter that was meant to be from a child but was clearly written by the mum, it was quite a shocking read, saying that the child had been very naughty and didn’t deserve anything for Christmas, this was an instant cause for concern, we  stayed and played with the child while the letter was sent to the management, I think the police were even involved in that case.  

What’s the most rewarding thing about your job? 

Just the pure joy on children’s faces! And I love when you get a shy child and they just open up to you, it’s the most magical reaction. Santa is all about being happy, and the job can make you very happy.

The question on everyone’s lips is: have you ever had a child punch your beard off? 

Nope, never ever! I’ve had a child tug it, but I say go ahead give it a tug, the glue we use is very strong and it has to come off a certain way, it won’t come off if pulled downwards. 

Have you ever had a child catch you off-duty in your suit, say…downing a bottle of Budweiser?

No never, when I’m in my suit I’m Santa, I only do things that Santa would do. 

How do you deal with cheeky kids or kids who question your authenticity?

You will get kids questioning you, it just comes with the job, no matter how good you are, or how amazing you look. I have several props on my person that can be used as “convincers”. I have designed very magical north pole coins, credit cards, sleigh license, all these things help but normally just asking what they want for Christmas can soon change their mind.

Have you ever been asked to change your appearance for your role or does the costume do most of the work? 

No, I’ve never been asked, I’m very proud of my Santa look.

What does a professional Santa’s CV look like – what experience do you need under your belt to land a role like that? 

There are so many different jobs for Santa – grottos, walkabout, light switch on events, home visits, video calls, office parties, voice overs, school visits, large stage show musicals, I am very lucky to have done all of these types of work. 

Smiling on demand and hanging out with kids all day is some people’s worst nightmare. How do you have the energy and stamina to stay in character all day?

I think this does get easier the more you do it, but what you have to remember is that you see a lot of children but not all at the same time, so to me every child is a new audience, so every child is a fresh performance. Also knowing that I can have a nice cold can of Coke when I get home helps.

Haha, Coca Cola, very on-brand even when you’re off-duty! What about if you’re having a bad day, how do you separate your reality from the role? 

This is easy, and there is just one thing needed for it, even if I have had a bad morning or a terrible time travelling to the event, all I need to do is put my beard on. As soon as that goes on, I’m Santa! It’s the oddest feeling but works every time.

By the time it gets to Christmas are you sick of mince pies and all things Christmas or does it just add to the magic. What’s your relationship like with the holiday season as a result of your job?

I love Christmas! And this has grown hugely since having children of my own. This sounds like I’m crazy but on Christmas Eve I still get excited about Santa coming, even though I know, I still picture him in his sleigh flying across the sky, and I hope I always will!

Biggest misconception or preconceived idea you had about the role?

I honestly don’t think I have any, I think this is because I have always done it, even way back in my airing cupboard days, being Santa is everything I imagined it to be.

What valuable lesson has playing Santa taught you?

That keeping the magic of Christmas alive in a child is so important, it’s made me a fantastic listener and that is so important for children.

How will you be kicking back for Christmas once you’ve hung up your hat (and your beard) for another season?

With a whole load of mince pies, a glass of Sherry and watching Christmas specials with my wife Heather, my two boys Jasper and Reuben and our dog Ringo. Bliss, Merry Christmas!

If you’d like to find out more about Santa / Sammy or book him for an event, check out his website here!

Guy Pidsley

For Guy Pidsley, being Father Christmas isn’t simply a job for a few months of the year, it’s fundamentally who he is. After following in his own father’s festive footsteps and answering to Santa for more than 20 years, spreading holiday cheer is in his bones and continuing the magic of this legendary story is his greatest honour. Non-believers, prepare to question everything…

Being Santa for a living is an intriguing career. How did you get into this job? 

If you are Father Christmas, you don’t get the job, it is your job, well not even really a job, it is just what you do, it has to be done with love, care and belief, the belief is that you ARE father Christmas, and I am.

What does a typical day as Santa look like? We’re guessing it’s not your average 9-5 gig…

A typical day is just being Father Christmas for the time that those who have asked you to be Santa for them is your just being there and  greeting and talking to the children that come to you, wanting to talk with you, and letting you know what they hope for at Xmas

Instead of a sleigh, I have a trailer that I carry all sorts of goods, for all sorts of people around the country!

On a scale of 1 – 10, how intense is it playing such a legendary character? You have big boots to fill! 

It’s not that intense because I am Father Christmas – it’s enjoyable rather than intense.

Do you have to audition/attend Santa school? Talk us through the prep involved… 

Because I am Father Christmas, and love being the purveyor of all happiness, after all the years I have done there’s no audition process. I’d be quite happy to run a Santa school to help the number of Santa’s available. 

Other than a naturally jolly disposition, what makes for a convincing Santa?

Being convincing is just being you, having a head of hair and a beard that requires no falsies, also if you ARE Santa what convincing does anyone need! 

How do people you know react when you tell them what you do? 

I’m known as Santa all year round locally, even by all the school children as you get recognized by other school children in the supermarket as they shop with mum. 

Does the job pay well?  

More than the national average!

Have you had any funny/weird requests for gifts?

Nothing really weird, but surprises can suddenly present themselves, a lovely lady sits on my knee and her fiancé kneels before me and when she opens the present, he asks her to marry him…good result! Hilarious and weird requests are always fun – when children ask for some things with their parent present, the hilarious part is the parents reaction!

The most heart-warming is when the present they want is for Mum and Dad to be happy together. Social awareness in young children is awesome. 

We tend to assume it’s the children that might cause some challenging situations but how are the parents?!

Parents and grandparents present no problem, they just want the children to get to the point that when we have finished, they are bubbling with excitement and are laughing, that’s what it’s all about.

What’s the most rewarding thing about your job? 

It’s not a job, it’s years that have developed in the joy of life, the continuation of the keeping alive a wonderfully simple legend, belief of a myth, that results in care and gift.

Yup, that’s wonderful, being a real Santa with white hair, big beard, an answer to the question are you a real santa, the reply is well give my beard a tug….sold

The question on everyone’s lips is: have you ever had a child punch your beard off? 

I am so lucky that I do not need any hair/beard etc., in addition, I have beautiful full-length robes, I’m 6ft 2, if any difficulty one can for small children appear overbearing, you just have to adapt quickly on those occasions.

Have you ever had a child catch you off-duty in your suit, say…downing a bottle of Budweiser?

Yes, often when I go down the pub locally, children there say, “Hello Santa”, always keep a few chocolate coins in your pocket when going for a pint. 

How do you deal with cheeky kids or kids who question your authenticity?

Authenticity is not a problem – “believe or don’t believe, it’s up to you, I hope you have some lovely presents this Christmas, I think I know what you’d like, tell me.” Naughty kids are dealt with by kindness and listening, they always come round.

Have you ever been asked to change your appearance for your role or does the costume do most of the work? 

I am Father Christmas so no appearance, or costume changes are required.

What does a professional Santa’s CV look like – what experience do you need under your belt to land a role like that? 

No CV required for the real original!

Smiling on demand and hanging out with kids all day is some people’s worst nightmare. How do you have the energy and stamina to stay in character all day?

What a funny question, if you ARE Father Christmas, the smile, happy energy and stamina  are all part of the enjoyment of being Father Christmas.

What about if you’re having a bad day, how do you separate your reality from the role? 

Bad days don’t exist when you’re Santa. 

By the time it gets to Christmas are you sick of mince pies and all things Christmas or does it just add to the magic. What’s your relationship like with the holiday season as a result of your job?

You cannot be serious asking Father Christmas about magic and mince pies – what a wonderful time of the year! My Father did Santa for years, it was a real follow on, I still have his FC suit. He had the same wonderful attitude to giving. I am pleased to follow his lovely joy of life! 

Biggest misconception or preconceived idea you had about the role?

These are all held by those who are NOT Father Christmas, for my part, those imposters shall always be put aside. 

What valuable lesson has playing Santa taught you?

Where do you start? Love, care, patience, understanding, the ability to listen, to be true to yourself. There are times when you have to step on the border of being who you are and what the expectations of those that you identify with wish to believe. Not a real problem if you are true to yourself. By the way I know what you want for Christmas – just let me know the colour! 

How will you be kicking back for Christmas once you’ve hung up your hat (and your beard) for another season?

Once Christmas is done we should continue to care for each other. The spirit of giving is not just limited to Christmas and gifts. How about giving your time?

Father Christmas enjoys a good Christmas Dinner once he has been all around the world, the reindeer need their hay and a little something special. Whatever you do, be kind to one another. 

You can find this Father Christmas at Elveden Farm for 4 weekends. 

Robert McCaffrey

Robert McCaffrey, 40, played Tricky Dicky, an elf in the Arctic Circle in Finland. Now a specialist Fashion & Art Historian and Copywriter who occasionally still gets to flex his acting muscles by speaking at conferences and exhibitions, he takes a fond look back at his weird and wonderful Elfish years. 

How did you get into the job? 

I applied through the actor’s newspaper The Stage, back then I was auditioning for everything and anything that came up so I actually can’t remember the audition process. I do remember thinking that it was weird that there wasn’t a script for the ‘show’ – but more on that later.

Did you have a professional Elf name?

I was Tricky Dicky – a mischievous elf who was always pulling faces and making farting sounds. Much of this characterisation was improvised with me drawing on my infantile humour. 

On a scale of 1 – 10, how intense was it playing such a legendary character? There’s a lot of pressure to do a good job, we’d imagine? 

I have always been a high energy person, so it was intense, but that seemed appropriate. If there’s an audience (even now when I do public speaking) I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver. Tricky Dicky was no different. I wanted to make people smile and laugh. We were part of a whole squad of different elves and we all wanted to create the best experiences for all the guests.

What did a typical day as a pro Elf look like? We’re guessing it wasn’t your average 9-5 gig?

Well, here’s the first weird thing. When we arrived in Finland it was winter (unsurprisingly). Firstly this meant that the sun barely came over the horizon and secondly it meant we were performing for the day trippers who wanted to see Santa in the Arctic circle. These day-trippers were sporadic so sometimes we didn’t work for days at a time and then we would be busy day after day. Time began to lose any meaning because it always felt like night and our schedules were so muddled up.

In fact, on one of my days off I attempted to go skiing on my own (I don’t ski) and ended up nearly killing myself. Due to tiredness and feeling a little confused I accidentally got on the ski lift for a black slope. I was totally on my own and had to ski (fall about 20 times) the entire way down the mountain. I had to be treated for ice burns. After that – I kept my wanderings more sedate and local, and mainly slept on the days we weren’t working.

But on the days we worked – we would all assemble at a big rented house in the forest near our separate accommodations and get into makeup. I was also experienced applying makeup so I would assist getting everyone ready and then do my own rosy cheeks and freckles. We would take a few hours to get fully made up and into costume while we ate a traditional Finnish breakfast. Then we would pile into a minivan and drive to the clearing in the forest where Santa’s grotto, the traditional Sammi tents, reindeers, sleigh rides and more were all set up. Shortly after we arrived, the coaches would begin to park up and excited children and parents would begin to walk our way. We would run excitedly to greet them and stay in character for about 4-6 hours until the last coaches left with children waving out the windows.

Then we’d go home, get changed and sit down to a feast prepared by our hosts before walking through the thick snow into the little town of Rovaniemi to go drinking and dancing. 

What do you do for work when you’re not busy being a Christmas icon? (feel free to skip as largely for those still in the role)

Fifteen years later I am an art & fashion historian and copywriter. I gave up acting shortly after my adventures in Finland because I was struggling to afford to pay my bills. And let’s be honest – you wanna go out on a high, surely there’s no greater role than playing one of Santa’s elves?

Did you have to audition? Talk us through the prep involved…

I did a lot of auditions back in the day and I would often over-prepare. Typically, I would have a suitable monologue memorised and I would have practiced my character’s movement and postures. I can’t remember the Tricky Dicky audition but I think they just wanted someone with the right cheeky face. So I probably didn’t actually have to deliver a monologue, I probably just got the job cause I look a bit naughty.

Other than a naturally jolly disposition, what makes for a convincing Elf?

The ability to talk in a totally made up language. In fact, this ability to communicate with other elves, from all over Europe in a made up language, actually started to make sense after a few weeks. We developed certain made up words that could convey just enough meaning – things like ‘I’m going to the loo, meet you here’ and ‘let’s go and talk to that family over there’. Also the ability to be daft, make a fool of yourself and not feel embarrassed. 

How did people you know react when you tell them what you do for work? 

I have to dig out pictures to prove it. I am now a seemingly serious academic person who writes for big fashion designers and get my research published in Vogue. So when I say I was once a Christmas elf they demand evidence.

What’s been the happiest reaction you’ve had from a kid?

A family wanted to go on the sleigh ride that accompanied the Santa visit but their youngest son was nervous. In the end he agreed to go on the sleigh ride only if I went with the whole family. I hadn’t experienced the sleigh ride yet, as the elves typically hung out near the grotto. I had an amazing time and me and the little boy were like best friends. After that he insisted I join them everywhere they went, to see the huskies, to have hot chocolate in the tent and ride the ski mobile. The whole time I wasn’t allowed to speak English (cause I was an Elf) but I could understand everything the family were saying. Apparently the little boy was autistic and they had never seen him bond so quickly with anyone and they hadn’t expected him to enjoy the day trip. I don’t think they realised that I was actually a fellow Brit and understood every word. It was a lovely experience and knowing what a difference I had made, I could have cried! 

What about the weirdest reaction…

There was one Finnish girl who simply wouldn’t leave at the end of the day and wrapped herself around my leg, holding up the coaches. She was a bit intense and kept biting me if I tried to shake her off. I think it took about half an hour until I was free.

We tend to assume it’s the children that might cause some challenging situations but how are the parents?!

A really mixed bag. Parents with disabled children were very emotional. Sometimes the child they had brought had a terminal illness and this was expected to be their final Christmas. This was difficult because we had to stay in character, upbeat and only speak Elfish which was tough because sometimes you just wanted to hug them and reassure them. Being a daft playful elf when someone is going through such grief is difficult, but you have a job to do and that is to make this Christmas experience a positive one.

Some other parents were just super rich, arrogant and complained about having to queue five minutes to see Santa. I would usually focus on their kids and ignore them.

Most of the time the parents were just as excited as the kids, it was hard not to be in such a magical place.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being an Elf?

Seeing the northern lights, bringing smiles to faces and experiencing another world. I made some great friends in the process and learned about the Sammi people and Finnish culture. 

Did the job pay well? (feel free no to answer this if you’re not comfortable disclosing)

Ninety percent of acting jobs have terrible pay. This was no different. I came back on Christmas day and barely had enough money to pay for a taxi back to my London flat. I was so broke I had to go and get a real job.

How did you deal with naughty kids / kids who question your authenticity?

Tease them, tease them and tease them some more. The parents would usually play along and they would just get frustrated. It was always the older brother trying to ruin it for his younger siblings and act cool. But we always won them over. I mean you can’t argue with someone speaking a nonsense language. Most of the kids were good humoured and well behaved though – there’s something magical about standing in the perpetual twilight snow with the northern lights flickering above you. It  makes anything seem possible, even Santa and his elves.

What does a professional Elf’s CV look like – how did you land a role like that?

I had been acting since I was eight years old in Blackpool theatre and then doing the festivals. I’d briefly started my own production company with fellow actors, putting on self penned plays across the North West to get more acting credits. After leaving Blackpool I worked in TIE (Theatre in Education) out of a company in Scotland for about four years. I was essentially touring around small theatres and venues performing plays tailor made for kids. They included Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Once in London I did a lot of Extra work, worked for Garsington Opera and the London Dungeon before I got the Elf job.

Smiling on demand and hanging out with kids all day is some people’s worst nightmare. How did you have the energy and stamina to stay in character all day?

I am a big kid – even now at 40 years old I’m just the same, except I complain about my back more. I think you get a lot of energy from being around kids and while you do have to pace yourself, you always find the energy. The most exhausting thing wasn’t the running around or playing but the thick winter wear we had to wear under our costumes. At the end of the day we were all drenched! Eww!

If you were having a bad day, how did you separate your reality from the role?

Even a low rent actor like me had the capacity to immerse myself into a character enough to erase whatever else was going on. When I was 17 years old I was in the middle of a theatre production when my mum had a stroke and died. I was on stage that same night because when you inhabit a character you shed your own body, mind, worries, issues and totally become someone else. So my bad days, my hangovers, my tiredness just melted away when I became Tricky Dicky.

Did playing an Elf ruin Christmas for you, or did it just add to the magic of the season. What’s your relationship like with the holiday season now, as a result of your job?

Before then I had always worked at Christmas, in bars, in restaurants etc. But after that I found a partner and settled in London and began to realise that Christmas really is a time for family. I started my own little family, just me, Guillaume and my dog Jacqui and now we go all out each Christmas. I think realising the magic of Christmas and embracing the way I do now started when I was in Finland.

Biggest misconception or preconceived idea you had about the role?

Well – I thought there was actually a ‘Christmas Show’ I thought I’d be learning lines, dance routines etc. No… we just dressed up and wandered around talking to visitors (in nonsense Elfish). I guess we were a bit like Mickey and Minnie mouse at Disneyland except we didn’t need someone to guide us. Bafta award winning acting, it was not.

Also – despite being from the North of England, I actually had never experienced such extreme cold and didn’t know what that was going to be like. I actually threw up shortly after getting off the plane. I had never been so cold in all my life and thought I was actually dying.

What valuable lesson has being a professional Elf taught you?

That you can communicate with children through play. I have French nephews and nieces who adore me even though they barely speak English and my French is dreadful. If you just throw yourself in and start making noises, before you know it you’re communicating.

How will you be kicking back for Christmas this year now that you’re no longer an Elf?

This year I will be piling into the car with my fiancé and dog for an escape to the French countryside. We will likely have a naff plastic tree and no turkey – but we’ll all be together and that’s the main thing.

Megan Robertson

Not only did Megan pass her Elf interview with flying colours, but she also helped to create the Elf manual for future staff after working as Mistletoe for 4 years at a mall in Canada. Megan has hung up her Elf winklepickers now but it was the perfect position whilst she was studying at University!

How did you get into this job?

 I had just begun a graduate program in documentary production with hopes of creating a doc about my uncle who was fighting Huntington’s Disease. I was about to start filming when my school announced the program was ending and funding was cut. The camera equipment the school had was broken and I needed a camera soon, as my uncle’s health was declining at a steady pace. At this time I was working as a janitor at a high school to try to afford the new camera, but it wasn’t enough funds to cover any kind of camera. I then saw a posting at the local mall for a Christmas Elf. The job paid more than any other job I could find at the time and the rest is history. Being the elf allowed me to buy the camera and create my film which is now a lasting memory of my uncle. 

Do you have an Elf name?

It is mandatory for all elves to have a special name, it adds to the magic. I wanted to be Jovie but my boss was not a fan so I became Mistletoe after seeing a display window with Mistletoe hanging.  

On a scale of 1 – 10, how intense is it playing such a legendary character? There’s a lot of pressure to do a good job, we’d imagine?

9 it is an intense gig, the fate of Christmas magic is in your hands and it is your job to ensure each individual who comes to see you leaves feeling better than when they arrived.  

What does a typical day as a pro Elf look like. We’re guessing it’s not your average 9-5 gig?

It’s definitely different than my 9-5 now. You would arrive and get ready, you would then greet Santa and parade down to the Village. The day would consist of entertaining the guests, making sure Santa was taken care of and helping young ones smile. Children from 18months to 2 years are usually scared of Santa so this was usually when you would have to work with the photographer to get a decent picture. 

What do you do for work when you’re not busy being a Christmas icon?

I have since retired and now work in Project Management.  

Do you have to audition? Talk us through the prep involved…

 You are invited to an interview in which they ask you a number of Christmas related questions- this process is to get a feel for your personality. During my second year I was invited to help with the interviewing and helped create the Elf Training Manual for our team. 

Other than a naturally jolly disposition, what makes for a convincing Elf?

Knowing your story and sticking with it. Kids will test you. “Show me your ears. Where are the reindeer? Why are you taller than me? I thought elves were short…”. Having answers for these questions is key to the character. In response- my ears are quite cold so I wear this hat to keep them warm, reindeer are nervous around people and are in a shed napping, elves come in all sizes, I just ate my vegetables.  

How do people you know react when you tell them what you do for work?

I definitely was teased about it- my family absolutely loved the fact that I was an Elf. My dad would answer the phone with “How’s our favourite elf?”. At first, it was embarrassing, but then I owned the embarrassment and laughed along with everyone. 

What’s been the happiest reaction you’ve had from a kid?

I had a little girl come in twice before trying to see Santa, but due to long lines, she had to leave both times as she had dance competitions. On the third time, there was another line, and the little girl broke down in tears. I asked her and her mom if she could be ready to see Santa in 5 minutes and I would fit them in. I explained to the couple next in line that we had a quick reshoot and was able to get them in. I have never seen a mom and girl so happy before. 

What about the weirdest reaction…

One morning Santa slept in with Daylights Savings Time and the mall suggested I fill in for photos that would be free for the customers. Months later I was working my other job, when some guy came up to me at an event (in front of my coworkers) and said “Weird question, were you an elf?”. When my coworker answered for me, he explained he and his girlfriend had a pic with me and asked if I would take a selfie with him so he could show her. I didn’t live that down for a while.  

We tend to assume it’s the children that might cause some challenging situations but how are the parents?!

Some parents are so appreciative, others are nightmares. A family came an hour or so before closing on Christmas Eve. Our lineup had been cut off by the mall, and when I explained this the lady told me she hoped I got in an accident on my way home. One dad made fun of one of the elves, and when I asked him to leave he did not take it well. Parents were oftentimes the biggest pain of the job. 

What’s the most rewarding thing about your job?

It was the moments that showed the humility in people. One little girl came in asking for her deaf brother to be able to hear on Christmas. Another family came in each year and took pictures in costumes for their dad who was serving in the military overseas (I was able to comp their photo). One family was able to spring their baby from the hospital long enough to take a quick photo with Santa before heading back. These moments made me appreciate my family and those I love a little more. 

Does the job pay well?

It was the best paying job I could get while in University.

How do you deal with naughty kids/kids who question your authenticity?

The most naughty kid I dealt with kicked me in the shin when I asked what he wanted for Christmas, the parents did nothing. I just said Santa’s watching and doesn’t give presents to naughty kids. 

What does a professional Elf’s CV look like – how do you land a role like that?

 I had worked with kids before and wrote that I had a love for the holidays. 

Smiling on demand and hanging out with kids all day is some people’s worst nightmare, how do you have the energy and stamina to stay in character all day?

It was trying at times. There was nowhere for me to eat one year, so I had to use the food court. I didn’t have time to change so I would eat in costume. Parents would constantly come up to me and tell their kids to tell me what they wanted for Christmas so they could avoid the lineups. Some asked for pictures. I knew this was part of the job but sometimes you just wanted to sit in silence for 5 minutes and eat something. I was once on the phone with parents and had to answer a kid’s questions about Elf on the Shelf. My parents always bring that up with how I went from sounding exhausted and mono-toned to cheery in a split second. 

If you’re having a bad day, how do you separate your reality from the role?

Being able to have a reason for doing the job in the first place was the key. Year 1 I needed a camera, year 2 I wanted to go to NYC over NYE…having an end goal was key to getting through the rough days.  

By the time it gets to Christmas are you sick of mince pies and all things Christmas or does it just add to the magic? What’s your relationship like with the holiday season as a result of your job?

It makes you get tired of the 5 Christmas songs they play at the mall. Now that I’m retired I can go back into a mall with fond memories, but I avoided Christmas Eve mall shopping for a year or two after I retired. 

Biggest misconception or preconceived idea you had about the role?

Biggest misconception was that it was going to be easy, it was not. The costume was uncomfortable and most days I worked 12 hours standing in rubber shoes with no padding on a hard concrete floor. It was a lot more physically demanding than I originally thought.  

What valuable lesson has being a professional Elf taught you?

Believe it or not, elfing taught me a lot about parenting. I saw a lot of great parenting over the years and I saw some things I would want to avoid. I am currently 15 weeks pregnant with my first child and often think back to the valuable lessons I saw during my elfing time. 

How will you be kicking back for Christmas once you’ve hung up your hat for another season?

This year I am taking it easy with a baby on the way, but whenever I pass by a mall Santa I always think back with fond memories.  

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