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22 December 2010

Hard Jobs For Santa Claus At The Shopping Malls

Hard Jobs For Santa ClausGetting paid to dress up as cheery, chubby Santa Claus may seem like a cushy seasonal job, but the truth is, it's hard out there for a Santa -- especially a mall Santa.

Just ask professional Santa Claus Tom Carmody, a former high school teacher who's been "Clausing" for the past eight years, four of which were spent at malls around the U.S.

Carmody told AOL News that being a professional mall Santa is a tougher job than most people realize. Turns out, only the strong survive.

Courtesy of Tom Carmody
Professional Santa Tom Carmody admits being a mall Santa is tough, but in the end, it's all worth it.

"You have to be partially deaf to deal with the constant noise around you," Carmody joked. "That, and extreme patience and an ability to stay in character at all times -- even when your shift is over."

Carmody, who's played jolly old St. Nick at malls in Washington, D.C., Cincinnati and Chicago, said the typical steady mall gig consists of 10-hour shifts up to seven days a week for roughly two months between early November and Christmas Eve.

But for "naturally bearded" Santas like himself, the role continues even after clocking out.

"It's much harder for us to blend in because we look like Santa with or without the costume. It becomes a real challenge when you're eating at a restaurant after your shift and you realize that your every move is being observed by kids around you. You have to behave," he explained.

Carmody recalled a time when he was grabbing a bite after work at an Applebee's and absentmindedly decided to have a beer with dinner.

"I heard a little boy say to his mom, 'I didn't know Santa drank beer,' and I immediately knew I made a mistake. Beer is a major no-no for Santa. So is smoking, since it turns your beard yellow."

Another challenge for a mall Santa is that big red suit, which can get very hot under those bright lights and photo cameras.

Carmody said his trick during his mall Santa days was to wear a "cooling vest" under his coat -- a special vest filled with ice packs to keep himself from overheating.

Then, of course, there's the number of unexpected things that can happen on the job, including bratty kids throwing objects at Santa.

Seriously. Carmody said he was once hit in the head with a strawberry that some naughty child flung from a few stories above in an attempt to be funny. Santa was not amused.

He also admitted he's been puked on "just a little" by babies on the job, but he's never been farted or peed on by kids, so that's a plus.

"People always ask if a kid has ever peed on my lap, but that's never happened to me," he said with a jolly laugh. "Really, it's not that bad. Being a mall Santa was never intolerable, just exhausting."

Courtesy of Tom Carmody
Carmody said he's been puked on by kids at work, but never peed on. Happy holidays.

Hard Jobs For Santa Claus"I did get older kids tugging at my beard and questioning my validity, though, especially middle-school children who had outgrown Santa. They were the hardest to please, but I'd just talk to
them about the spirit of giving."

Carmody has also had to deal with endless crying children, particularly those between the ages of 10 months and 3 years old, who tend to freak out the minute they're on Santa's lap.

"I don't make them cry. It's the separation anxiety from their parents. One minute they're with Mom and the next they're on some stranger's lap, so of course they're going to cry," he said.

That's exactly how parents wind up with those typical crying shots of their kids with Santa. You know, the ones they dig up every Christmas to embarrass you in front of everyone.

To avoid those mall Santa meltdowns, Carmody said he developed several strategies. First, he would suggest the parents appear with their babies in the photograph so the child wouldn't experience that sudden separation anxiety.

He'd also have kids sit by themselves in his chair while he sneaked up behind them in the picture. They wouldn't even see him, avoiding a crying crisis altogether.

However, that type of picture might wind up on Sketchy Santas, a website featuring photos of creepy Santas.

While tears can be averted by a good mall Santa, embarrassing moments are inevitable.

Carmody said his most cringe-worthy moment as Kris Kringle was the time he was taking a picture with a man and a woman in their 20s who appeared, at least to him, to be a couple very much in love.

"They were on my lap and I told them to smile and think about the first time they kissed and they looked at me with utter shock and screamed, 'We're brother and sister!' I was so embarrassed. That's what you get for making assumptions."

Other memorable moments have come from the funny gifts kids request when they're sitting on his lap, including live dinosaurs.

"The weirdest request I ever got was from a 5-year-old girl who asked for a debit card for Christmas. Not a doll, not a bike, but a debit card. I couldn't believe it," he recalled.

Still, no matter what happens at the mall, Carmody said a Santa's attitude must always remain upbeat and positive.

"Even if you're in a bad mood, you have to become the loving, giving, cheerful spirit of Santa Claus. It's your duty, if you're one of the good ones," he added.

Take notes, bad Santas.

Of course, not just anyone can be a mall Santa.

Although Carmody believes he was "born" to play St. Nick, he also had extensive training.

He graduated from the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan -- known as "the Harvard of Santa schools" -- where he earned a master's in mall "Clausing."

And though his mall days are behind him, he can still be found donning a red suit for Santa Claus & Co. in Colorado, a professional Santa-booking company that hires out Santas for parties and events.

Just don't pee on his lap.

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