Making a career out of playing Santa Claus

Kelowna photographer Darren Hull has posted an amazing photo essay featuring Santa Tom Kliner.
Image Credit: Darren Hull


KELOWNA – Tom Kliner is not just your run-of-the-mill mall Santa. Kliner is a self-described professional St. Nick.

If you met the Kelowna man on the street, and he wasn’t wearing his red suit and hat, you would have no doubt he is the Jolly Old Elf.

When I spoke with Kliner he had just finished working a skating party at Kelowna’s Prospera Place. Earlier that morning he was the host of a Santa brunch at Predator Ridge. He took a few minutes to speak with me before he was headed off to a private, multi-family function at a restaurant that evening.

Obviously it’s a busy time of year for a professional Santa Claus. As Kliner says, you make hay while the sun is shining.

So how does a guy get into the Santa business? Kliner tells me it started back in 2001 when he quit a job in haste. He put in an application for a Santa gig, got the job and has never looked back.

“I totally fell in love with it. Absolutely fell in love with it”

Kliner says it’s the kid’s eyes.

“They’re excited. Everything is brand new for them. The world is still a good place. It’s fun,” he says with a hearty, dare I say, Santa-esque laugh.

Kliner told me he used to be the mall Santa but a disagreement with management ended the run and forced him to be independent and creative.

Being Santa has become half of his full time job. He also works as a photographer during the down time.

It’s not just children’s parties for the Okanagan’s Santa. Kliner is booked for corporate events, advertising, private functions, school events and public events like the downtown Kelowna Light-up.

He’s been in movies and music videos. One of the movie productions, “Anything but Christmas” has been airing on CTV and Bravo this week. You can check him out in PRTY H3RO’s Christmas video “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” He also shoots advertising layouts in magazines. He recently did a photo shoot with Kelowna photographer Darren Hull with great results.

Kliner has created and runs two international Santa organizations, the Fraternity of International Real Bearded Santa’s and Santa’s Across the Globe.

He started the groups to share tips and tricks with his fellow professional ‘Santa Friends’ as he calls them. Kliner feels the organizations have raised the bar for Santas worldwide.

“Everywhere you go everybody has different ideas,” Kliner says. “They have different traditions.”

He has ‘Santa Friends’ in Pennsylvania who arrive to events by boat because that’s the Dutch tradition predominent in the region. He rubs red, wooly, elbows with Santas in Russia, Austrailia, New Zealand and Israel. Kliner says his groups have members from 14 different countries.

What separates Kliner from a chubby guy who throws on a red suite and fake beard is skill, experience and a real beard.

Yes, the white beard is real. Kliner says he’s had facial hair since he was 15. Now that he plays Santa, the beard has been dyed white and grown to the proper fullness and length.

“An awful lot of effort goes into it. You can’t have another job at this time of year,” Kliner says.

“It’s not just a hat and a coat and a “ho ho ho.”

It's all about knowing your audience and building rapport.

Willy, Kliner’s wife of 26 years, plays Mrs. Clause. Together they make their own costumes.

It’s the team of Santa and Mrs. Claus that makes a difference to their clients. They are involved in the event they are working. They work it. Little kids are less scared of the big furry man in the red suit if Mrs. Claus is there.

“She’s less intimidating and because we’ve been together for so long we know each other’s little nuances or hand gestures. It works marvellously.”

Plus Willy puts up with her hubby’s big beard.

Kliner is 55 years old and has no plans to hang up the Santa suit and shave off the beard anytime soon.

“I don’t ever see getting out of it. This is one of those rare professions you get into... I think you get better as you get older,” Kliner says. “It’s the most fun thing you’ll ever do.”

Kliner says, as Santa, he can talk to anybody no matter their race, creed or religion. They all say hi and smile.

If you are in need of a Santa, head to Tom Kliner's website for all his contact information. He also has a YouTube channel.

To contact the reporter for this story email or call 250-491-0331.

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