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VOL. 128 | NO. 249 | Monday, December 23, 2013

Jolly Helpers

Santa’s professional aides take job seriously

By ERINN FIGG

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This year, a group of researchers from London’s Centre for Economics and Business Research in London teamed up with the founders of the Big Bang UK Young Scientists and Engineers Fair to tackle some tough Santa statistics.

Grady, age 5, and Ella Dedman, 2, enjoy a visit with Santa Rick at Cordova Christian Academy. Santa has had a busy season preparing for Christmas day. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Based on population figures, they calculated that this Christmas, Santa Claus will deliver gifts to about 1.6 billion children worldwide in 32 hours (thanks to changing time zones). With an average of 2.5 children per household, he’ll make about 640 million stops on Christmas Eve, visiting 5,556 homes per second and consuming 150 billion calories in milk and cookies.

As these production and logistics demands trickle down to the workforce, one elf must be able to finish wrapping a gift in 10 seconds. It takes 3,000 elves working eight hours a day all year to complete this task. The estimated cost of these gifts will set Santa back about $456.81 billion, not counting toys made in the workshop and the price of storage facilities.

How does Santa pull it off? Just about any child out there would consider that question an easy one: Christmas magic, of course.

Regardless of the extended-release magic reindeer dust and supersonic sleigh, Kris Kringle’s merrily hectic schedule often necessitates outsourcing some of his public appearance duties to a few thousand freelance ambassadors.

Rick Jamison of Cordova is one of those ambassadors. He is a cheerful, warm-hearted man who takes this responsibility very seriously.

“It’s something that’s always been in my heart,” he said. “If you don’t believe it in your heart, you’re not going to make a good Santa. You’ve got to feel that joy.”

A great attitude and strong alignment with company values aside, the job’s additional requirements hold candidates to high standards. Word has it that the following job posting came straight from an anonymous source in Santa’s Human Resources department:

“Desired candidates must be exceptionally good with children. They must be organized individuals with experience at making detailed lists and checking them twice. Proficiency at doing background checks to determine whether clients are naughty or nice is a must, as is a jolly demeanor. A booming laugh is a plus, but training is available. Candidates must be able to think on their feet (or actually, in a chair) and occasionally handle tough questions with ease. They must also have extensive experience working with GPS devices. Most importantly, candidates must exhibit a true appreciation for the spirit of the holiday season and a passion for fulfilling the Christmas dreams of thousands of children. This position requires extensive travel in a variety of climates. You will also be required to wear a uniform.”

Jamison fits the bill for most of those requirements.

Although he’d been acting as Santa for friends and family members at holiday parties for years, he started working as a professional Santa last year, getting most of his work through GigSalad.com, a database of talent for hire, including professional Santas. Since then, Jamison has rapidly become a success story. When The Daily News checked in with him last year, he had booked almost 20 events. This year, he said his business has grown by about 50 percent and that he’s pretty much booked solid.

“I’m doing more business events this year,” he said. “Even adults get excited to see Santa, although their Christmas lists are much different than the children’s. They ask for cars, a million dollars, things like that.”

Jamison attributes his business growth to word-of-mouth and glowing online reviews of his previous appearances. In addition to GigSalad.com, he is now also listed on GigMasters.com. He’s also pumped up his social media presence with a more active Facebook page (facebook.com/santa.rick.100) and has started tweeting (@midsouthsanta). In addition, he keeps his website (midsouthsanta.com) updated with new photos and information.

In the modern era of technology, he advises other Santa ambassadors to pursue as many avenues as possible to strengthen their communication skills, as he believes it’s by far the most important skill a Santa can have.

“Some of these children, they have a lot going on in their lives. I find that many of them just really want somebody to listen to,” he said.

Sometimes, people can just sense that Jamison is Santa. Sheila Moody, special events coordinator for the Town of Collierville’s Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts Department, is one of those people.

She met Jamison through the Fayette County Bass Club, one of the official sponsors for the Collierville Youth Fishing Rodeo each May.

“I didn’t even know he was a professional Santa,” she said. “I could just tell by his sweet disposition, free spirit and kindness that he’d be great for our Christmas in Collierville event.”

The event, which took place Dec. 7 and 14, was a smashing success.

“Santa Rick was phenomenal with the children,” Moody said. “He knew what questions to ask them and he asked them different questions depending on their ages. He was extremely professional and went above and beyond to make sure children were positioned appropriately for photos. He was very gentle with them.”

Moody was so impressed that she booked him again for next year.

Jamison is committed to making sure children get the ultimate holiday experience when they meet him. His wife, Gail, also is available to appear in costume at events with him. He also ditched last year’s theatrical beard and grew a real one. He is a member of the International Brotherhood Of Real Bearded Santas as well as Clausnet.com, a networking site for professional Santas to share stories and tips of the trade.

However, sometimes all the training, tips and networking in the world can’t prepare Santa from some of the tough questions he receives from the children who visit him.

“Last week, a little girl sat on my lap and said, ‘All I want for Christmas is for my mom and dad to get back together again,’” Jamison said. “She was very upset. I said, ‘I can’t help with that, but I know you’re hurting.’ I told her I would say a special prayer for her when I went to bed that night. Then I cried when I got home.”

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