Underneath all the packages and tree trimming, though, this is a business of selling photos. That is not Santa's job per se. No bonuses come Dunn's way from the number of "Me and Santa" images sold, but he knows why he's there — to make kids smile.
Last Christmas season, he had his picture taken roughly 13,200 times — and it wasn't always children. Enlisted military stationed at nearby Tinker Air Force Base stopped by for pictures with Santa to send home, and brawny football players from the University of Oklahoma arrived at his North Pole set. "I sat on their laps."
There are plenty of great holiday jobs out there for you, and there's always the potential to extend beyond the peak season. Here are five to consider. Pay ranges, which will vary based on factors such as experience and where you live, are primarily derived from U.S. Department of Labor data.
1. Santa Claus
The nitty-gritty: How's your kid-side manner? Wearing a Santa suit even made the Grinch grin. But it does have its challenges. For starters, it's not a gig for the weak-kneed. You can expect to have wiggling children of all ages climbing up on your knees to whisper a Christmas list into your ear. And the truth is some of the little ones can be heavy to lift up and hold steady on your lap. Sitting for hours and smiling in a bulky red suit can be trying. By all means, don't try to amble over to the food court for lunch. You'll be mobbed. If you're hired by an outside Santa distributor, a firm that places Santas at the thousand-plus enclosed shopping malls, you will probably travel to the mall assigned to you and spend 40-plus days camped out in a nearby motel room equipped with a small fridge and microwave. But if you're prepped, rested and armed with breath mints, tissues, hand sanitizer and a kind disposition, it's pure magic.
The hours: For contract Santas, typically six weeks starting at Thanksgiving, 10-hour days with meal breaks. Varies by job for private parties, events and independent stores.
Median pay range: From $10 an hour to thousands per season. Contract pay for the 40-day season can range from around $10,000 for a rookie to more than $50,000 for a more experienced player, depending on the mall and location.
Qualifications: It helps if you look the part — older, plump, a white beard and a jovial laugh. Santas can be of any race — depending on the venue — but they must be male. (There are some openings for Mrs. Santas and Santa's helpers, too.) Having a natural beard is often a prerequisite. You can dye it if necessary. Padding can be tucked in to get that jelly belly. Contact smaller malls, department stores, photo shops and special event party planners directly for openings. Check local classified ads. National staffing services typically provide Santa impersonators to the larger malls. Three of the bigger ones: Cherry Hill Photo Enterprises Inc., Worldwide Photography and Noerr Programs Corp. You'll need to apply online and go for an in-person interview. If they like your look and attitude, you'll slip into costume and make-up for headshots, which are sent to the mall reps for selection. If you're picked, the service will negotiate your contract and send you to Santa school for tips on appropriate behavior and conversations and suggestions for calming kids and make-up help too. There is a criminal background check and drug screening. Don't forget your flu shot.