Remember writing letters to Santa Claus as a kid, asking for a tricked-out skateboard or the newest video game on the market?
Imagine, instead, that Mr. Claus wrote to you.
Each Christmas, Julie Engelhardt makes that dream a reality, surprising kids with letters from the man with the bushy white beard and the soft red suit.
Meet the Woman Who Makes Money Writing Letters From Santa
As a stay-at-home mom with two boys, Engelhardt began brainstorming ways to make a little extra cash around the holidays nearly 10 years ago.
She’d always been interested in writing, though mostly she’d written nonfiction articles for newspapers or magazines. But one day in 2008, she decided to try her hand at fiction writing and began taking orders for letters from Santa.
Since then, Engelhardt estimates she’s made between $200 and $300 each holiday season writing letters to children from Kris Kringle.
She’s written letters to the children of neighbors and friends, as well as to the children of complete strangers around the world whose parents wanted them to have an extra-special Christmas.
“Over the years and through social media, I’ve gotten to know people from different countries,” she said. “I’ve sent letters to Australia and Scotland.”
Engelhardt, who lives outside of Louisville, Kentucky, initially found customers by telling friends, neighbors and other parents about her service. Now, she also uses Facebook and other social networks. Engelhardt said she typically charges around $10 per letter.
What’s Included in a Letter From Santa Claus?
Before writing each letter, Engelhardt sends the parents a list of roughly 20 questions about their child, their family and their pets. She asks about activities the child is involved in, if the family took any vacations during the year, the child’s favorite subject in school and their favorite movies and books.
With this information in hand, she sits down to write an extremely personal letter to the child from Santa.
“I will do my best to incorporate as much as I can – that’s what makes it special,” she said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter kind of thing.”
Sometimes, the requests for letters from Santa become deeply personal. Engelhardt remembers writing letters to a little girl after her father died.
Each year, the family would release a handful of balloons to honor his memory, so Engelhardt wrote to the girl, as Santa, that her dad loved the balloons she sent him.
“Initially it started out as a way to make some money on the side for the holidays, but it has grown into so much more,” she said. “Touching a lot of people’s lives, that really meant a lot to me as well.”
What Sets These Letters From Santa Apart
Engelhardt’s letters are special for another reason, too.
When she finishes a batch of letters before Christmas, she’ll place each one into an envelope with the child’s name, address and the proper postage. Then, she drops all of those letters into a larger envelope, which she mails to North Pole, Alaska.
North Pole, a suburb of Fairbanks, was given that name in 1949 as a way to attract business or, possibly, an amusement park like Disneyland.
Today, it’s best known for its postmark. People from all over the world send bags and boxes of letters to the postmaster there. Except for the cost of postage, the postmark is free.
Engelhardt, who includes the postage in her $10 fee, said the postmark adds a special touch for young children.
“They’ll say, ‘Look, it actually came from the North Pole,’” she said.
On the back of the letters, which she types on her computer, Engelhardt will sometimes include a recipe for Mrs. Claus’ chocolate chip cookies. She has also included “Good List” certificates to let children know they’re not on Santa’s naughty list.
Engelhardt decorates the letters with stamps in the shape of snowflakes and Christmas trees, too. She signs them as Santa Claus in red or green marker.
“Anyone who has a little bit of imagination would be able to do something like this,” she said.
Because Engelhardt also worked as a substitute teacher for many years, she’d often see the letters during show-and-tell time at school. Sometimes parents would snap a picture of their child opening their letter from Santa and send it to her — their mouths were usually hanging open and their eyes were wide, staring at the paper in disbelief.
Though her letter-writing business has been steady over the years, Engelhardt has ramped up her efforts on yet another Christmas project: portraying Mrs. Claus.
She typically charges between $50 and $150 per appearance, though she also appears for free at many charity events. As a freelance Mrs. Claus, Engelhardt markets herself and mostly finds business by word-of-mouth.
Engelhardt has truly mastered the art of the holiday side gig.
“With Mrs. Claus, I’m getting calls every few days to see if I’m available,” Engelhardt said.
Pick Up a Side Gig for the Holidays
Curious about how you can make a little extra money this holiday season? If writing letters from Santa or portraying Mrs. Claus aren’t your thing, consider selling baked goods, decorating homes or businesses, or taking family photos.
You could also make and sell holidays crafts, like reindeer hot chocolate mixes or a peppermint foot soak.
If you already work full time, don’t worry – there are plenty of holiday side gig options for you. Consider starting your own gift-wrapping service or dog-sitting while pet owners are away for the holidays.
If adding a new income stream isn’t in the cards for you, there are some strategic ways to stretch your holiday budget, including knowing when to shop so you get the best prices and making discounted travel plans.
Your Turn: Would you consider writing letters from Santa to make a little extra cash for the holidays?
Sarah Kuta is an education reporter in Boulder, Colorado, with a penchant for weekend thrifting, furniture refurbishment and good deals. Find her on Twitter: @sarahkuta.