These Christmas Odd-Jobbers Are Glad To Have Work This Year

From a virtual chief Santa to a Christmas light trail creator, here's how they're making things work during the pandemic.

Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year – but 2020 is unlike any others. Many traditions and events are either cancelled, postponed, or taking a different turn this year. What happens, then, if you rely on a Christmas job?

Getting seasonal work can be a great way to boost cash flow without having to commit to a role long-term. But millions may be financially struggling this year, as many rely on a busy Christmas period in order to survive. Seasonal roles are down by a third, according to research from job search engine Adzuna, but there are currently 13,600 temporary Christmas jobs unfilled in the UK.

The pandemic may have changed the type of work on offer around the festive season, but people are working harder than ever to make ends meet. We spoke to the Christmas workers creating new seasonal opportunities for themselves this winter.

Chief Virtual Santa

‘There’ll be props to bring everything to life, such as a roaring fire, a map, and a storybook’

Grottos up and down the country are still able to go ahead, but everyone will have to stick to strict social distancing rules. Instead, many grottos are turning to online personalised virtual experiences. Santa and his elves visit children virtually, where families can book storytelling sessions, complete reindeer training, a virtual sleigh-ride, or an elf-themed treasure hunt.

“It’s a different experience, but at least there’s an experience,” says Aaron Spendelow, 31, chief Santa at Santa’s Grotto Live. “I was working as an elf a couple of years ago and one of the Santas got ill, so I jumped in. I’ve loved it ever since, it’s a magical experience and I love getting into character.”

Spendelow has worked in children’s theatre for most of his career – and it’s been one of the worst-hit industries. He’s lost work from pantomimes and doing hospital bedside shows for Great Ormond Hospital and Children In Need.

“I’ve branched out doing loads different things and using my character and acting skills to keep working,” he says. “This year, I’ll be sat in a real grotto with a Christmas tree, no green screen involved. There’ll be props to bring everything to life such as a roaring fire, a map, and a storybook. However, as a performer, I do miss being around other actors because it’s solely down to you to keep the energy and if anything happens it falls on you to keep the show going.”

Chief Santa Aaron Spendelow at Santa's Grotto Live
Chief Santa Aaron Spendelow at Santa's Grotto Live

Being a one-man online show can be tiring – Santa gets Zoom fatigue like the rest of us. “It can be a long day,” adds Spendelow. “I could have back-to-back shows where each session lasts for an hour and you do that two or three times a day. You put your all into it: your character, your energy, and your voice – it can be quite exhausting.”

There are some perks. Children can be apprehensive or scared in a different environment, but they feel much more comfortable in their own home. “I love live theatre and acting, a lot of people say there’s nothing like it and I think that has its place, but we need online experiences, too,” he adds. “We need to think more about accessibility and for people who can’t travel out and about.”

Terranium Christmas Tree Designer

‘The festive design challenge is like no other we have done before’

The high street is looking a little quieter than usual this year – but despite the lack of footfall, Christmas trees are still going up. In fact, they’re being put up earlier than usual for some much-needed festive cheer.

For Darren Henderson, 42, founder of Botantical Boys in London, his terrarium Christmas tree design in Coals Drop Yard in King’s Cross is the biggest project to date. “The festive design challenge is like no other we have done before,” he says, “and creating something new and bespoke has been super exciting.”

King’s Cross has a big residential community, so Henderson says they can get into the festive spirit and take joy from the Christmas decorations. “It has allowed us to do something rewarding for people in this extraordinary year – they can connect to nature and enjoy looking at the festive tree whilst they are taking in some fresh air.”

Botanical Boys founder, Darren Henderson unveils his installation named The Terrarium Tree at Coal Drops Yard in King's Cross
Botanical Boys founder, Darren Henderson unveils his installation named The Terrarium Tree at Coal Drops Yard in King's Cross

The sustainable 28ft tree is made from 70 enclosed terrariums, each containing a unique, individual miniature garden and surrounded by 168 mirrored baubles in differing sizes. The terrariums will grow throughout the festive season and then be re-homed in the new year.

“It’s an alternative, unexpected interpretation of the traditional festive tree that’s made by hand,” says Henderson. “We chose plants that don’t require too much moisture and the higher placed terrariums contain more colourful mosses in their base so they reflect against the bauble mirror and look very festive.

“The most important driver for this project though is giving people something special to look forward to this year.”

The Terrarium Tree, Coal Drops Yard, Christmas in King's Cross
The Terrarium Tree, Coal Drops Yard, Christmas in King's Cross

Christmas Trail Light Creators

‘We’re spacing everything out around the city, the park, or in the woodlands’

Most big Christmas lights switch-on events have been scuppered, but some light displays are still shining on to brighten up the dark winter nights.

For Sevim Sangwell, director of Fineline Lighting, a lighting and rigging events company in Bristol, this year was supposed to be the most profitable and busiest time of year. Usually, they’d be working on Christmas markets and events. The Bath Christmas markets are considered one of the city’s biggest festive attractions, which draws in over 400,000 visitors annually. With no markets on this year, nearby local businesses are taking a battering.

Instead, Sangwell says they’ve managed to create some lighting Christmas walks and trails around Bath.

Fineline Lighting Christmas Light Trail
Fineline Lighting Christmas Light Trail

“It’s been hard, we’ve had to let people go and furlough staff, but we’re hanging in there just about,” says Sangwell. “We’re currently working on lighting up historical buildings around Bath.

“We have to ensure we’re putting on a Covid safe and secure environment, even if it’s outdoors. We don’t want people to gather at one point, so we’re spacing everything out around the city, the park, or in the woodlands.”

Sangwell says there’s a lot of meticulous planning and meetings – “people seem to think it’s a simple flick of a switch and the lights come on, but there’s a lot of risk assessment”.

“We are hopeful for the future and it will all come back eventually, but we just need to survive until we can start bouncing back,” she adds.