Most Santas don't rely on the gigs as a primary source of income, but they say they enjoy doing it and the extra money is nice.
John Wenner, a Santa with a real beard from Woodbury Heights, N.J., said his last good year was 2008, when he booked dozens of private parties and corporate jobs. This season, he's only had a few gigs.
"They're way down this year," Wenner said. "It's amazing how down. I've even cut back my price a little bit, to help sway a little more business. As it is, the way the economy has been, it's getting tough."
Despite the less-than-jolly economic climate, Santas said the joys of the job mostly make up for the tough times.
They love talking to kids, making adults laugh and spreading some holiday cheer in a year where joy has been in short supply. Several mentioned buying presents — or even Christmas trees — for needy families. Trolli's group encourages members to book charity events for free or reduced prices if they don't get paying gigs.
A lucky few — mostly in wealthier parts of the country — are reporting a booming business.
Doug Peters of Davie, Fla., said he's had an excellent couple of years; last year, a wealthy customer on the exclusive South Florida enclave of Fisher Island asked him to work Christmas Eve. Peters charged $500 an hour and the customer didn't blink.
Still, being Santa isn't cheap. A decent-looking fake-fur trimmed red jacket, hat, pants and boots cost upward of $1,000. And that's not even counting an authentic-looking beard.
Walter J. Wood — also known as Santa Woody — is a Phoenix-area Kris Kringle who looks like something out of a holiday Coca-Cola ad. The $100 an hour he charges "really doesn't recoup the costs," he said, especially when you take into account gas, travel time and the expense of miscellaneous items like beard glue.