As I was perusing my Facebook feed the other day, I came across a post from my accountant, Brad. It read as follows: "Santa Heaven: working at Grouse Mtn, my own elf workshop, 2 real reindeer (Dancer and Vixen), skating rink outside my door, horse drawn sleigh, making kids happy....I'm getting paid for this?!"
Naturally my first thought was that Brad had come upon hard times and needed the extra income in what is generally his slow season, ie Christmas.
But the Facebook post alluded to something more than money. It was clear from the photo above his cheerful caption, that Brad (in full Santa gear, skating in merriment on an outdoor rink) is having the time of his life.
So I decided to call him. Okay, I'll confess, I had a couple of tax related questions to ask him too, but very quickly the conversation turned to his gig as Saint Nick, and how it all came to be.
Little known to me, Brad likes to act. In the past he's played the role of a miner in Barkerville, and last summer when he started to grow his beard for the role, it came in very white. So white, in fact, that someone suggested he would make a good Santa Claus.
Never one to let an opportunity fall by the wayside, Brad went home and googled 'Santa Vancouver'. He quickly found 'Hire a Santa', snapped a photo of himself, and emailed it to the woman who runs the site.
She responded with the welcome news that she could get him a ton of work as Santa Claus, but that he would need to go to Santa School before she could hire him out. Which of course, Brad did.
There are several schools (some universities even) for aspiring Santas in North America, with programs varying from 1 to 2 days. Naturally they cost money (in Brad's case $200 for the day), but they are necessary if you want to work. You learn things there like how to groom your beard and put your makeup on, how to 'ho ho ho', and how to choreograph an appropriate Santa Claus entrance.
And you're taught basic ethical stuff in Santa School, like where to put your hands, because your hands must always be visible in photos. Santa is not to bring up religion, and must be nimble enough to answer some pretty wild questions, like "what do you want for Christmas Santa", or "is your underwear red too Santa". Also, Santa must never promise anything to anybody for Christmas.
Brad enjoyed Santa School, and met some veteran Santa's while he was there, like 'Santa Michael' and 'Santa Dave'. That's how you're referred to if you work as Santa Claus I learn, so my accountant is now 'Santa Brad'.
The biggest investment for a Santa Claus is the suit. Oh, you can do it on the cheap, explains Brad, but getting a quality suit (decent ones run about $1000) absolutely helps get and keep you in character. Brad says he has a real leather belt and boots to adorn his crimson ensemble, and since he's not a fat guy, he uses special stuffing for his belly.
Brad started working almost at once, and despite some initial nervousness, he has really taken to the role, much like an actor gets in character. He is adamant that Santa must always be in character when on duty, and he works hard, sometimes despite considerable distractions, to maintain his Santa persona.
'There's no drinking when you're Santa', he tells me. "No alcohol whatsoever, even if you're at a business party, and you're offered drinks, and there's not a kid within miles." And I have no doubt that the corporate gigs, which are generally very well paying, can get interesting for Santa. Factor in a few cocktails and the expectation that everyone sits on Santa's knee, and you get my drift.
As for the money, pay for a Santa job ranges from $20 an hour for a mall Santa to $70 an hour for a corporate event. This is just Brad's first year as a Santa, but I read that some of the more experienced guys are making in the five figures for 6 weeks work.
However, as I mentioned earlier, it's not about the money for Brad. It's actually a 'transformative experience' for him. He says when he walks into a mall dressed as regular old Brad, no one notices him. Once he's changed into his Santa suit, he's an instant celebrity. "Everyone loves Santa", he says, "it's a pretty neat feeling".
And then there are the kids, who, even when they are afraid of Santa, always leave so happy, marvels Brad. Which I'm sure must be inspiring, especially for a guy who deals with fools like me and Revenue Canada most of the year.
I'm just hoping that Santa Brad remembers to morph back into Accountant Brad by next April.
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