For working Santas, gigs can take them many places: malls, residential homes and tree-lighting ceremonies.
But Battle Ground-based Santa Claus Ted Mach’s work schedule on Dec. 4 called for a gig at a Farmers Insurance office next to Billygan’s Roadhouse on Northeast Highway 99.
As Christmas Day nears, jobs pile up, and they are often funneled through a local agency for Santas in the Portland-metro area called Santa’s Pack.
“Within Santa’s Pack, we actually work together,” Mach said. “Our motto is if there’s a Santa in need that can’t make their gig and you’re available, we’ll go and help out.”
Not for the money
Back at Mach’s residence, a sizable home that sits on the end of its own road and is surrounded by trees, the St. Nicholas impersonator prepared for the job in a small upstairs bedroom. The room, otherwise unoccupied, contained a closet of Santa suits, a vase of poinsettias and Tupperware containers with items such as white gloves.
Slipping on a deep maroon velvet coat with fur — opting for that versus a cherry-red suit — Mach discussed his foray into Santa work.
“It’s just something I do for fun,” he said. “It’s not for the money. I have to purchase equipment. I’ve got to get a new leather belt. I’ve got to get a new suit, and suits are very expensive.”
At age 69, Mach has been “officially” retired for four years, adding that he’s worked professionally as a Santa about that same amount of time.
“I actually bought a set (of Santa clothes) about 11 or 12 years ago from Costco. It was one of those things — I said, ‘Eh, maybe one of these days I’ll put it on — for the grandkids and all that.’ Well, I started playing Santa just to go around work on Christmas eve (before retiring),” Mach said.
Prior to Santa life, Mach worked as a network engineer at Portland General Electric and Bonneville Power Administration.
“I have seven grandchildren. They know I do this. Three of them have a great-grandfather who did it — he got me into this. He is my son-in-law’s grandfather. He saw me and he said, ‘I need someone to do a gig for me. I said I’ll do it. He got me into the Santa’s Pack and everything,” Mach said, noting that Santa’s Pack conducts background checks.
Around age 60, his naturally black beard started to turn white.
“As soon as it’s after Thanksgiving, he wears a red shirt, suspenders and a Santa hat wherever we go,” his wife, Lois Mach, said. “When his beard started turning white, and he had a red shirt on and we’d be in the grocery store, walking along, and the little kids got going.”
Ted Mach hopped in his “sleigh” — a black Dodge Ram pickup truck — and drove along the winding back roads to the Farmers Insurance office owned by Deborah “Debbie” Clinton.
Inside, staff set up stations with decorated cookies and treats, including hot cocoa. A chair awaited Santa next to a decorated tree with gifts underneath.
Children of staffers, including Brucella Herrera, were already eagerly waiting.
“Do you have magic?” an excited Mason Sanchez-Jauregui, 7, asked Ted Mach.
“What kind of magic are you looking for?” Ted Mach asked.
“Like … I don’t know!” Sanchez-Jauregui replied before running away.
Like anyone interested in bettering themselves on the job, Ted Mach has attended conferences and seminars to improve.
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“Santa should know how to tell a story off the top of his head,” Ted Mach said. He explained the “Legend of the Christmas Spider,” an old tale about the origin of Christmas tinsel with Ukrainian and German origins.
Smooshed between Ukraine and Germany is Poland, where Ted Mach has roots. Fluent in Polish, he grew up celebrating a Christmas tradition called Wigilia. His parents later had to relocate to Siberia as refugees when they were “removed from their homes by gun point by the Soviet Union,” Ted Mach said. The Nazis and the Soviet Union signed a Nonaggression Pact in 1939 when Nazis took the western part of Poland and the Soviet Union took the eastern region, he said. Eventually, they moved to Connecticut, where Ted Mach was raised.
“I’m losing it because I don’t speak it every day,” he said of his fluency in Polish. “If I speak it once a year, I’m happy.”
These days, he’s working more toward improving his Santa persona. The look is already there, with the coveted real beard (he belongs to the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas), and he even has naturally rosy cheeks. However, his wife said he’s one of the skinniest Santa’s Pack members.
“I’m just hoping I can be a better Santa. You never know what opportunities there are. Some Santas get in movies and ads and all that. Some of the Santas I know, they say it’s backstabbing down there in Hollywood,” he said. “But that’s where the money is, down there.”
But Ted Mach does take pride in the smaller gigs, like at the 900-square-foot insurance office, where he’s played Santa for the last three years.
“OK, here we go!” said Ted Mach — er, Santa. Once 4 p.m. hit, Mason, along with his twin brother, Owen, jumped on Ted Mach’s lap.
“So, what do you want for Christmas?” Ted Mach asked.
“Pokemon cards! I like Pokemon cards!” the brothers told him as the camera clicked.