7 things you didn't know about being a mall Santa

ByLA Blake KABC logo
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Caleb Sigmon poses in his ''toymaker'' Santa outfit, one of seven he uses in his various jobs as Santa.
Courtesy of Caleb Sigmon

When you visit a mall Santa, you know what to expect: a jolly old man with a white beard happy to listen to your children's Christmas wishes.

In true Santa fashion, though, there's a lot more that goes into the process than meets the eye. Creating the Santa experience can take hours of preparation, thousands of dollars and can even come with an emotional toll. But it's all worth it according to 22-year-old Caleb Sigmon, who works as a mall Santa in Georgia.

"Working with Santa is one of the most rewarding jobs I have ever had," he said. "I have the privilege [sic] of interacting with an uncountable number of children and their families and am blessed with the opportunity to speak life and love into them. That's what Santa is all about -- spreading love."

In a closer look at what goes into the mall Santa experience, Sigmon told ABC seven fascinating facts you might not know about the job:

They don't hire just anyone

Men from the London Santa School, dressed in Christmas outfits, pose by telephone boxes, in central London in a 2009 file photo.
AP Photo/Sang Tan

Sigmon said you have to have "the look" and that there's a strong vetting process before they let you put on the suit in front of the kids.

"I had to go through a lot to get my foot in the door with the company I work for. I submitted tons of photos and had to go through several interviews," he explained. "I also had to pass a background check and drug screening."

There's no shortage of work

Though he works as Santa on top of his other jobs as a theatre artist, actor, director and teacher, Sigmon said it's a big time commitment, taking up about 400 hours over the course of the holiday season. And there's no need to constrain Santa to the mall, said Sigmon, whose first gig was at a Christmas tree lighting. His father, who has also worked as a Santa, has even made home visits for free.

Kris Kingle needs time to put his face on

"Santa Buster", Buster Killion, who is also a computer networker, applies the finishing touches to his Santa costume before going out to work in a mall in a file photo.
AP Photo/Susan Ragan

Sigmon said that, unless you're the type of Santa who grows a beard out for the season, it can take up to an hour to get ready.

"I have a dressing room at the mall where I get into my wardrobe, and undergo a lot of wig and makeup time," he said. "Each individual hair in my beard has been tied by hand onto a see-through lace backing so it looks like it is really growing out of my face."

Santa's look can get expensive

Different Santas get a hold of their suits through different means, Sigmon explained, but many will invest big bucks to make the look authentic. Fortunately for Sigmon, his wife is a costume designer and makes his suits for him. Still, he said, he needs a lot of costumes.

"I have 7 different 'looks' that vary in style. I have a traditional suit, a regal robe look, my toymaker's workshop outfit and more," he said. "Of course, you can get a ready-made Santa suit from a costume shop, but the majority of the big dogs in the Santa community all have custom-made wardrobes, spending thousands of dollars on what they wear."

There are Santa conventions

Members of the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas gather in New York to pose for a news photo.
AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Not to be confused with "Santa Con" where non-professional Santas wander from bar to bar dressed in their holiday garb, there are conventions and organizations specifically for people who help out the big guy by donning the red suit. Sigmon hasn't been to any of these, but he said he still keeps up with his Santa friends through online message boards.

"We swap stories, advice, and encouragement throughout the season, but rarely get to visit in person," he explained. "I am so busy during the Christmas season that I never get to see anyone else in action."

You have to think like Santa

No matter what, Sigmon takes staying in character very seriously. And since kids will say anything, it involves a lot of creativity.

"Whatever situations arise, I have to navigate them as Santa would. Sometimes, I also have to really think on my feet, so there is a lot of improvisation," he said. "The biggest requirement is to be jolly!"

Adults come to Santa, too

Occasionally, though, the job can get serious. Some of the hardest interactions Sigmon's had to work through have been adults, he explained. They come to ask him for all sorts of things that he knows he can't give them.

"I once had a man in a wheelchair ask me for legs," he said. "I've had more adults ask me for jobs this year than ever. They are asking me for a Christmas miracle. How do you respond to that?"

Since Sigmon is a Christian, he said that he offers to pray for these people, and sometimes he does it right on the spot.