What's the difference between a professional Santa and a man who throws on a red suit and says "ho ho ho"? The earnings potential.
The median pay for a mall Santa is $30 per hour, but those at the top of the scale can earn more than $100 per hour, according to PayScale. The compensation software and data company surveyed pay for 50 department-store Santas.
Freelance Santas hired to visit homes, office holiday parties or other events can earn even more, especially if he has training from a Santa School – yes, those exist.
"A typical hourly mid-range is about $150," said Dan Greenleaf, a professional freelance Santa who runs his own booking agency, imsanta.org. He spoke with CNBC while preparing for a gig – "ho-ho-ho'ing" from a fire engine during a tree lighting in a nearby town.
But that rate is just the middle of the road.
"There are guys getting $500 an hour," he said – and some, even more than that. Once, a Manhattan client offered one of Greenleaf's Santas $1,200 for a single hour on Christmas Day.