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Becoming Santa: Holiday Appearances Can Pay More than the Bills

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- At 5-feet 10-inches and 280 pounds with snowy white whiskers, Jack Sanderson is the embodiment of the classic Coca-Cola Santa Claus.

The real estate agent and actor from Los Angeles enrolled at the Victor Nevada Santa School. He spent $600 on a red suit, learned how to die his real beard white and to artfully avoid promising what Santa cannot deliver.

"It's hard work and each January when I shave off my beard and cut off my bleached hair, I feel a relief to return to myself again," said Sanderson, now 46.

Sanderson chronicles his training and the historical origins of Santa in a new film, Becoming Santa, which premiers Dec. 7 on the Oprah Winfrey Network. He made the film with his friend Jeff Myers, who had for years urged Sanderson to play the role in a documentary.

Now, Sanderson works at shopping malls during the holiday season, but next week he leaves on the most coveted Santa gig of all -- an expense-paid trip to Hong Kong as Cartier's corporate Santa.

The job pays well -- $850 a day for three weeks, plus roundtrip airfare on business class and his own Cantonese translator. In total, Sanderson will make about $16,000.

But Santa Jack, as he calls himself, said he won't get any "bling," only the joy of hearing the wishes of children who believe.

Santa schools say that men like Sanderson can make between $20,000 and $60,000 over the four-week Christmas season through mall and corporate party appearances. Mall work brings in $20 an hour but playing a party can earn Santa $100 an hour.

"It can pay the bills, but our focus is on having good Santas and that starts with the ability to have a twinkle in the eye and the desire to good," said Jennifer Andrews who runs the Calgary-based Victor Nevada School. "I don't think profit is a dirty word, but it shouldn't be the primary focus."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio