From Iceland — Side Hustle Of The Issue: The Santa Claus

Side Hustle Of The Issue: The Santa Claus

Published December 13, 2023

Side Hustle Of The Issue: The Santa Claus
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Introducing Torfi: a jolly Santa with a side of rock’n’roll

At first glance, Torfi Guðbrandsson could be anyone. Add a wig and a beard, and he becomes unrecognisable. A school teacher by day, after hours throughout the holidays Torfi takes on different roles to bring joy to people. And he does it in style.

Torfi Guðbrandsson, 34, a teacher

I teach Icelandic for teenagers in a school in Kópavogur. On the side, I’m a Santa Claus and also an Elvis impersonator.

My father is Santa Claus. Not the real one, though. I was a teenager when he started taking me to gigs. It just grew bigger and bigger, and I’ve been doing it ever since. There are four of us – my father and uncle, and my cousin and I. We have a lot to do. Every year, we get the same customers who say, “I just want you. I’ve tried others, but there’s no one like you.” I think we give it a little bit more edge and we’re always trying to create a new act every year. 

This side hustle is like a 13th salary for us. I think I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t get paid. I enjoy it, though. While I’m doing it, I get in the Christmas mood. We are usually hired by companies that host big Christmas parties, but also by kindergartens and schools. I also often go to people’s houses for smaller gatherings. 

I used to work at a youth centre where the working hours allowed me to do more gigs. It got trickier when I started this job because the events in kindergartens and schools are during school hours. Now, I’m missing out a bit on the weekdays. Sometimes I have to take three days off when there are many gigs at the same time. But I do a lot more gigs on the weekends and also just after work. 

Ho-Ho-Who?

Iceland is such a small country and at big Christmas parties, I know at least one person in the crowd almost every time. I greet them by their name while in full costume and they’re always like, “Whoa, how do you know my name?” 

The best thing about being a Santa Claus is just seeing the joy on the kids’ faces. It’s the only time in a year when I feel like I’m really valued. I’m like a god to them. It’s so sad that behind the beard I’m not real. The kids always say “I love you,” “I write you a letter every year,” “You’re my favourite Santa Claus.” It’s also a personal struggle – I have two daughters, who believe in Santa Claus. I’ve been keeping this secret from them. I even performed as a Santa Claus for them, but they don’t know it. They said, “Daddy, there was Santa Claus in our kindergarten today,” and I was like, “Yeah? I didn’t know.”

Santa Claus etiquette 

One thing that most people do incorrectly is that you have to be invited in as Santa Claus at the beginning. When you go into people’s houses and you’re like, “HO-HO-HO,” that’s when the kids get scared, especially the little ones. I always come in very gently and I ask the kids, “Can I please come in? Is it okay?” Don’t scare them away at the beginning; then you’ve lost it and you have four crying babies and parents consoling them. That’s my tip for future Santa Clauses. Also, the worst fear for us Santa Clauses is that somebody will take off our hats. It happened to my dad once. Kids can be hostile.

Accidental Elvis 

The Elvis Presley gig started when I was in college. I was in a play and there’s an unwritten rule that you have to change something about the act. I was playing a doctor and I found this Elvis wig backstage, so I just went on stage with the wig on, in Elvis mode. Then I did it once at a party in 2010. It was supposed to be just a one-time thing, but someone saw me in the crowd and said, “Can you come to my birthday next weekend?” Then I had to buy a costume and learn songs. It just got bigger with time. These days I do it two or three times a month. Elvis works everywhere and for everyone. I’ve also tried doing Elton John a couple times, but Elvis is my guy.

The family of Santa Clauses has recorded a Christmas album to get you into the holiday mood. Listen to Jólasveinalögin by Skyrgámur og Kjötkrókur on Spotify

If you ever need a Santa, visit jolasveinninn.is.

Want to share how you’re making ends meet? Email us at grapevine@grapevine.is with the subject line “Side Hustle.” We’ll happily keep your identity anonymous.


Follow along with the Side Hustle series right here.

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