It’s a serious business, but fun: Playing Santa on Christmas Eve

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The costume must sit perfectly, and the song lyrics must be mastered as well. Berlin students are now already preparing for an important – but also lucrative – role: Playing Father Christmas to little children on Christmas Eve.

It’s literally a part-time job, lasting just a few hours on a single day. But it requires careful preparation, and so recently around 100 young men sat in the former student cafeteria of Berlin Technical University for the 66th full assembly of the student union’s “Elves Job Market.”

These young men are hoping for a position as a Santa Claus, or perhaps an angel, or even the Christ child, a role they will then perform on Christmas Eve for families with young children in and around Berlin.

They will be handing out gifts and singing Christmas songs such as O Tannenbaum (Oh, Christmas Tree) or other traditional Christmas tunes. On this recent day, the 100 young men are practising the carols, and it quickly becomes evident that not all of them completely know the lyrics. That would be a no-no on the big evening.

“If every day were Christmas, I would do this job every day,” says Nils Sommer, 24, who last year wore the Santa costume, complete with bushy white beard. He did it for the money, but then discovered how much fun it was. After taxes, the cost of the costume and the job-brokering fee, a Santa can earn upwards of 500 euros (540 dollars). On a typical Christmas Eve, he will make 10 to 13 appearances over a period of around six hours.

But to prepare for this important role he will also be attending workshops and will be talking on the telephone with parents who will tell him about their children, their names and provide tips as to the best hiding places for the presents.

Last year, according to the project leader Ozhan Bayraktar, around 250 Father Christmases and 30 angels visited a total of 2,600 families. The student council hopes that it will find at least as many Christmas helpers again this year. But so far the applications have been lagging somewhat behind. Tobias Gross, 23, says the job is a great experience, where one meets people of all social backgrounds.

But the Santas and angels also come from differing backgrounds. Among them are many foreigners, reports Burkhard Seegers of the student union. This is a great thing and has never caused any problems. “They (the foreigners) bring a bit of reality into the German homes,” he says. Seegers adds that the high numbers of foreign students playing the Santa role might also be a reflection of the fact that many of them are here in Germany without any family of their own.

In the cases of Nils Sommer and Tobias Gross, this isn’t a problem. After making their roughly dozen visits each to hand out presents and sing Christmas songs for the tiny tots on Christmas Eve, they can then head off home to celebrate the holiday with their own families.

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