Best-Paying Seasonal Job: Santa?

Many Americans were upset earlier this week that a mall Santa had been fired without cause, but outcry over the incident has reportedly forced Tysons Corner Center, one of the biggest malls in Washington, D.C. area, to reverse course.

Michael Graham, who had played Santa there for 18 years, reached an agreement with the mall to get his job back, according to the Associated Press. The surprise in the article, however, is that Graham makes $175 per hour as Santa!

Cue the Gershwin hit, "Nice Work If You Can Get It."

Graham's hourly wage is 10 times the going rate, AP reports. Where is the Professional Santa Claus Impersonators Association to comment on this?

Of course, being Santa is hard work: The outfit is hot and itchy, the kids can be bratty and demanding, and their parents even more so. But if you're good — and all accounts suggest that Michael Graham excels in the job — it could be the most lucrative seasonal job that doesn't require much training.

If Graham's Santa gig were full-time, year-round, the salary would put him in the top earning echelon, according to Al Lee,'s director of quantitative analysis, notes that the average anesthesiologist salary is $270K per year, or $135/hour. The typical salary for a CEO of a 500-person company is even less, at $251K per year, or $125/hour.

Even year-round full-time contractors (with degrees) don't make close to that kind of hourly wage. Contract recruiters in California make between $80 and $100 per hour, depending on years of experience, according to Bob Hancock, senior recruiter at Electronic Arts.

"I don't know anyone in my profession who makes $175 an hour, but then again," adds Hancock, "we do not require candidates to sit on anyone's lap during an interview!"

The Santa salary also holds up well against other types of workers hired on an event basis.'s Lee points out that the average DJ makes $51/hour nationally, and top-earning musicians and singers can make $105/hour. Only top-earning photographers come close to this Santa range, at $225/hour.

Still, the Santa salary towers over what most holiday workers make. "The typical seasonal job, retail associate, nationally earns about $9/hour, with 'top earners' earning $13.25/hour," says Lee.

If you're on a quest for a high-paying seasonal job, get busy! For some helpful hints, read this outlook on holiday hiring.

The talented Mr. Graham may still be a bargain for the mall, as they have averted a PR nightmare and a possible boycott that would have scrooged holiday earnings.

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  • Rod Fountain

    Yep --I reckon good luck to the guy -As for me -Well in 2009 I worked for this Mob from Queensland Australia as a Santa in a local shopping Centre near my home in New South Wales Pay was $25 per hour and everyone said I did a good job . So this year 2010 in August this mob rings me to see if I am available to work in a much larger shopping centre with 2 other Santas _I say OK and schedules of work are made Santa suits arrive in September and everything is agreed for me to perform 127 hours at $26.50 per hour .At 74 yrs old my wife tells me I am nuts but the money will come in handy Then on November 3 they ring and say get around to the Shopping centre to meet the photographers and Centre management
    The 3 Santas arrive on time and some young sheila from the photographers keeps us waiting for 50 minutes whilst she has her morning cup of coffee.
    I had a chip at her about her rudeness in keeping us waiting and that I thought was that .
    That afternoon I get a phone call from the mob who hired me saying -Sorry but your sacked- as the photographer doesnt think you have the right attitude for a Santa .
    So what do you do -- I check out to see if anyone else wants a Santa and No ,all the jobs are gone
    Now I remember that Judge Judy has had made some judgements on "Breach of Contract "(God bless that woman )and so after a few phone calls to the Law Society and others ,I have just now sent off a court order for this mob to pay my lost income
    Whether I will succeed will not be known until early 2011

  • Ilya Bodner

    Seasonal jobs seem to boost the holiday weeks. At least it helps out those that need the additional cash.

    Ilya Bodner