Santa Tells All — How To Become A Professional Santa Claus

Santa Ed greets children at the Dream Center. (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

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Ed Taylor was living in Ashland, Oregon in the early 2000s. His friend volunteered to be a Santa for a local fundraiser. When his friend got a cold, Taylor was reluctantly drafted to fill in — and that's how Santa Ed was born.

"I had never had a Santa suit on before, never thought of doing such a thing — and within minutes, I just fell in love with being Santa Claus," Taylor said.

Now "Santa Ed" splits his time between Oregon and L.A., doing everything from mall appearances and theme parks to TV commercials and talk shows. Here's how he became Hollywood's go-to Santa, and what he advises for aspiring Santas and Mrs. Clauses out there.

STEP 1: OPEN YOUR MIND ABOUT SANTAS

Taylor spent his career as a professional speaker, but getting into Santa-ing was entirely new for him. He also had to get past some preconceptions.

"My vision was probably retired guys, needing to earn a little extra money, so they're working in a mall somewhere," Taylor said.

He found out that that wasn't the case. Most people who become Santas, like him, were often roped into being Santa as part of a church group or other community involvement. They get a taste for it, then go out seeking more places to be Santa, according to Taylor.

"I think I was able to embody the Santa Claus spirit. I was able to give back to people that thing that they most enjoy about Santa Claus — that caring, loving, big old teddy bear of a guy," Taylor said.

STEP 2: LEARN TO TALK WITH BOTH KIDS AND ADULTS

Santa Ed sets up shop. (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

Taylor plays Santa for a lot of kids, but he also does parties where it's all adults, like company parties and entertainment industry events.

"Those are really fun too — adults all love Santa Claus," Taylor said.

With kids, he lets his elder instincts kick in.

"Most of us are grandfathers, or grandfatherly at least," Taylor said.

He loves listening to kids tell him what he wants to Christmas, but he always notices the parents watching at the same time.

STEP 3: STAY 100% IN CHARACTER

Santa is so photogenic that EVERYONE wants their photo with him. (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

When Santa Ed is at an event, he's Santa, and that's that.

"So my responses are 100 percent having to do with the North Pole, the magic," Taylor said.

Sometimes adults can get snarky. They'll ask questions like "Where are the reindeer?" But he's got in-character responses ready to go.

Of course, as a Santa with a real beard who's often wearing a red shirt, he'll also get stopped at Costco or when he's pumping gas, with people coming up to give a "Hey, Santa!"

When he's in his more civilian life, he'll answer questions about things like how he got started, how he gets bookings, and the business of Santa. And sometimes they'll even ask about hiring him for an event.

STEP 4: TAKE CARE OF YOUR BEARD

You can tug on it — that beard is 100% real Santa. (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

For a real bearded Santa, beard care is key. Some Santas need to whiten their beards if they're not the right shade (at least not yet).

"Many of the Santas have dark beards, and so they need to bleach them out," Taylor said.

Some Santas do it themselves, while others get their beards professionally cared for at a salon, Taylor said. Santa Ed is proud of his full white beard, including just a shade of gray here and there.

"There's a whole lot of Baby Boomers that look like Santa a little bit already," Santa Ed added.

STEP 5: DEVELOP A GREAT "HO HO HO"

Your "ho ho ho" laugh is one of the things Santas are most commonly judged on, according to Taylor.

"It's common for a new Santa to use a very staccato 'ho ho ho,' and you throw it in a lot — probably way too frequently," Taylor said. "And as a Santa matures, or gets a little bit more confident, a little more education about portraying Santa, we find the 'ho ho ho'-ing becoming more of a natural laugh."

Taylor demonstrated his more natural "ho ho ho" for us — and yes, it filled us with the Christmas spirit.

STEP 6: FIND YOUR NICHE

People of all ages come to meet Santa at the Dream Center. (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

Santa Ed does a wide variety of events — this Christmas season he's done a big tree lighting at the Citadel mall, as well as a huge event at the Dream Center giving gifts to people in need. But he also does home parties, company parties, preschool appearances, and more.

He's been a Santa for the Americana at Brand, a mall with a Santa line all season long. But he generally stays away from mall Santa appearances.

"There's the malls that are much slower. They just don't have the foot traffic that they did at one time," Taylor said. "In those, they can be... I don't want to say 'boring,' but time passes more slowly."

Taylor has figured out over the years the events that he really connects with, and has made those events his priority.

"When I look up over my glasses, and I see the parents over there, there's almost a tear going down their cheek," Taylor said. "The malls provide the environment where that happens, and it happens regularly."

He loves the malls, but finds they aren't what he enjoys the most. But he'll still fill in — he's set to be at a mall this Friday with the California Highway Patrol.

STEP 7: FIGURE OUT HOW TO BE AN L.A. SANTA

Crowds gather to see Santa Ed at the Dream Center. (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

There are some specifically L.A. Santa pro tips. While he grew up in Southern California and even remembers getting a surfboard for one Christmas, Taylor lives in Oregon now.

"The most significant difference is the weather. Up there, you can wear a Santa suit, and it feels appropriate — it's cold, and it's winter," Taylor said. "Down here, wearing a Santa suit can be very toasty at times."

So you'll need to get used to suiting up in different environments.

L.A. traffic can also be an issue getting to events — Taylor said that it makes him wish he had a sleigh that he could land on rooftops. This area also has a much bigger scale than many communities, so there are more people at a lot of the events that he does than you might find elsewhere.

That traffic has also led him to confine the area that he'll be a Santa in. He used to do events in Orange County, but found that the commute just wasn't worth it. Instead, he's tried to spend more time being in front of the people.

He also regularly does celebrity party appearances in places like Malibu and Beverly Hills. Taylor spends the holiday season in L.A., and will often come down early in the year to shoot TV shows that are going to air for the holidays. He was just on an episode of Magic For Humans on Netflix, which he shot much earlier in the year.

STEP 8: DEVELOP YOUR STORYTELLING

Adults need to get in their Santa photos too. (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

Kids love hearing Santa tell some Christmas stories. But Taylor said that half the storytelling is for the parents around the room.

He tries to keep them both engaged, making sure that his Christmas stories include things that even those parents might not know about Christmas lore.

STEP 9: LEARN TO BE A SANTA FOR EVERYONE

Santas have to have a wide variety of people skills. Taylor recently did a party for developmentally disabled adults, which he said required an increased awareness about how to respond.

He also did an event earlier this season for children with autism, with Taylor playing the role of what's known as a "sensitive Santa."

"Everything's quiet. They turn the music down, they turn the lights down, they don't have the big lines, people can make appointments," Taylor said. "And I as Santa am less animated. I usually have a softer, lower voice."

He did a Christmas in July this year with a sick young boy who they didn't think would make it to the holiday — the boy just passed recently.

"To be able to have the moments with him, and his family, and his friends during summer," Taylor said. "We brought in snow, and I held his hand as he walked on snow for the very first time."

STEP 10: GO TO SANTA SCHOOL

You can jump into being a Santa, but Taylor's also started his own online school helping his fellow Santas to develop their Claus-ian skills. He teaches everything from getting started to becoming a TV and commercial Santa.

Wait, there's a toy shop at the North Pole? So like, do the elves have to buy things, or...? (Samanta Helou Hernandez for LAist)

"In my conversations with these guys, I find that the word, or the phraseology of this being a 'calling' comes up very, very frequently," Taylor said. "They're doing good — they're fostering the spirit of gratitude and generosity in their communities, and love what that represents."

Being a Santa has made Christmas more significant for Taylor. Now his Christmas party might be a little after the day itself, thanks to how busy he is, but he loves being able to do things like going with Dodger Justin Turner to Children's Hospital.

"I like to think that we're making a little difference," Taylor said. "There's a real Santa Claus. Not necessarily what everybody thinks of — not the avatar that everybody associates with, that I look like. But there is a real Santa Claus, an energy that connects so many of us."

Santa Ed would also like to encourage both kids and adults to be Santa's helpers — take toys that the kids have outgrown and help find them a next home.

You can book Santa Ed for your own events at SantaEd.com. Or just leave out some milk and cookies.

For more on Santas in Los Angeles, read about Little Tokyo's Shogun Santa.

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