Jim Manning, a professional Santa Claus during the holiday season, can earn upward of $500 an hour for a private visit, but it is in no way easy money. Facials, personal trainers, “fat suits” and beards costing $500 all go into his portrayal of Santa.
In 10 years of playing Jolly Old St. Nick, his appearances have included tree lightings, parades, television, photo shoots, and parties. Manning, 37, comes sans reindeers, arriving by helicopter, horse and buggy, fire engine, or farm cart.
If a kid asks “where’s your sleigh,” how do you answer?
I’m pretty good at improv. I’ll say something like, “The reindeer are waiting for me at Logan Airport; they’re not allowed to land here because they’ll mess up your dad’s trees.”
Your beard. Real or fake?
I’m what the Santa industry calls a “designer-bearded Santa.” The beards cost as much as $500 and attaches in three places. I normally sport a goatee, but I’ll shave that off and keep my hair really short, then put on all the headgear.
How’s the Santa business this year?
I typically make 60 to 70 Santa appearances a year, including 10 visits on Christmas Eve alone. I just booked visit number nine. Two-thirds of my jobs are at residential parties, with anywhere from three to 10 children present.
How do you get in the spirit of the performance?
Once I put on the suit, I really feel the spirit of Christmas. Sometimes I’ll go to an event and someone will say, “Oh Santa, have a whisky,” but I would never do that.
What sort of unusual requests have you had?
One kid asked me not just for a horse, but a blue horse. Another 5-year-old boy hopped on my lap and said with utter conviction and sincerity: “I want $10,000 – cash.”
What about the gut? Is the Santa belly real?
I am a big guy – 5’11” and 240 pounds – but not nearly as big as Santa. I ordered a “fat suit” from a theatrical company in Iowa. But it didn’t have enough girth, so I undid the stitching and added more stuffing.
How did you perfect your “ho, ho, ho?”
It’s developed over the years. I was a Santa in Downtown Crossing for a few years and that’s where I did a lot of my initial practicing. I studied the original “Miracle on 34th Street.” To me, (Edmund) Gwenn is the ultimate Santa Claus.
You’ve attended Santa Claus School?
It was an intensive crash course where we learned about the history of St. Nick, wig and beard maintenance, accoutrements to wear, and practicing our “ho, ho, ho’s,” of course.
What’s your Christmas Day like?
I’m so tired I just sit there while my nieces and nephews try to get me to play with them. Being Santa can be exhausting.
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.