19 Dec 2023

What it takes to be a professional Santa

From Morning Report, 8:55 am on 19 December 2023
Generic Santa image

Photo: Unsplash

Santa's Wellington grotto looks a little different this year; it is on the Mars space station.

That is the case for Wellington’s Jackson Street Programme at least, which is in its eighth year of providing creative alternatives to Santa’s usual dwelling.

This year the charitable trust is helping to raise money for Women's Refuge.

Santa’s little helper, Karen Arraj-Fisher, welcomed Morning Report producer Ellie Franco on to the extraterrestrial wonderland in a rocket trip to Mars.

On landing, Santa was greeting 8-year-old Loretta with a northern English twang.

He asked what she thought Christmas was all about.

“It brings lots of joy and love and it brings families together,” Loretta told him.

Santa said some children are just too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve.

He let Loretta in on a little secret - how he makes it in and out of the house without being spotted.

“When I go into their house I just sprinkle some stardust … and then everyone falls asleep,” he said.

Back on Earth, Viviana Diaz is the head recruiter at Scene to Believe - a business which trains and recruits professional Santas across Australia and New Zealand.

She said having a real beard will earn Santa a premium.

“We do have a higher rate for the real bearded Santa for the reason that having a beard really costs money and effort, so to maintain that beard for a whole year is admirable.”

Diaz said Santa school involves a four-hour crash course under the guidance of a professional Santa.

“It goes from how to stand up, how to perform the ‘ho-ho-ho’s’, wearing the suit ... how to maintain their wellbeing.”

She said the organisation’s training goes into great detail around interacting with children.

“How to respond to tricky questions kids can ask but also working with different personalities and needs.”

Wayne Newby retired from working in nurseries to be a professional Santa and is currently based in Palmerston North.

He took part in Scene to Believe's training this year, where he learnt the value of sign language.

“We do have children that are deaf or partly deaf, and they come and they greet you with sign language,” Newby said.

“It’s nice to be able to reply to them with a little bit of sign language like ‘hello’, ‘welcome’, ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘I’m Santa’.”

Newby noted a particularly pleasant interaction with a boy who had intellectual disabilities.

“He saw me as Santa and then I gave him the pleasure of hand gestures and looking into his eyes and being that man that he was expecting,” Newby said.

But as with all jobs, some days were easier than others.

To stay jolly, this Santa said he tries to keep a smile on his face and make the experience one to remember.

“I had six or seven teenage boys in the other day and thought well I’ll stand up instead of just sitting down.

“They came in and they were talking about what they were going to do to Santa and I put two of them in a headlock.

“From that point on they had a bit of respect for me, a lot of fun and laughter, and they went away just buzzing.”