Boost your earnings with a Christmas job
Think you'd make a good Santa? Nick Jackson looks at the options

It's Christmas! Well, not quite, but go down to the West End next week and you would think that it was. The lights will be going up on Oxford Street and Regent Street, and Slade's timeless classic will be rubbing up against Cliff Richard's mesmerising "Mistletoe and Wine" on the retail jukebox.

Christmas starts early in retail, as you would expect. When you've got millions of mince pies, satsumas and socks to sell, you don't want everyone asking at once. This is a drain on the coffers for most of us - guilt-buying costly presents for relatives whom we have been meaning to see all year but somehow have not. But if you have a bit of extra time on your hands, Christmas retail can be a useful cash stocking, because shops take on extra staff to deal with the rush.

Sainsbury's alone is taking on 10,000 extra staff this Christmas, and it couldn't be easier to find work. Just pick a store that takes your fancy and turn up. Since September, Sainsbury's has already sold more than 700,000 mince pies, 21,000 Christmas puddings, 11,000 Christmas cakes and 60,000 Christmas cards.

You can see why they need the extra staff. Most of the work will be part-time, which is perfect for students such as Laurence Robinson. Robinson, 17, will be manning the deli of his local Sainsbury's over Christmas. He studies at Varndean College in Brighton, and works 16 hours a week. "It gets quite hectic," he says. "But people are a bit more cheery. It is quite festive."

When Robinson turns 18 next week, he will be on £5.55 - a reasonable wage, he says, for casual labour in Brighton. And, some might be surprised to hear, he enjoys it. "It is quite fun," he says. "You meet other students, get to know one another, and you end up going out as mates."

If fluorescent lighting and Christmas jingles are the first things to sap your festive spirit, there is also work to be done out on the streets. Christmas is a big time for chuggers, the charity muggers who flog passersby charity subscriptions. If you are turned off by the hard sell, the West End Company's Red Cap scheme is looking for new recruits. Red Caps guide lost tourists and shoppers round Oxford Street and Regent Street.

"American tourists looking around Oxford Street for Harrods are often the most lost," says Peter Adams, 34, who will be a Red Cap this Christmas. "We're there so that when people come to London, they feel safe and happy in the West End, and they feel it's a nice place to come to. If you like being outside and meeting people, it's a great job. Dealing with the public is always interesting - you never know what'll happen day to day."

Adams works the West End all year round, but Christmas sounds like the most fun. "It's always more exciting at Christmas time," he says. "It's also busier, but it's nice. It just feels more Christmassy." He earns £10.20 an hour, nearly twice what he would be paid in most shops.

To apply, visit the Chubb website at or call 0845 600 6999.

Nothing is more Christmassy than Santa Claus. Most stores recruit on an individual basis. You don't need the festive physique or facial furniture to play Santa - a pillow and fake beard do for most, but it helps if you want to go pro.

Colin Gitsham, 56, prefers to go by the moniker Mr Claus. He's been balancing children on his lap for six years now at the John Lewis store on Oxford Street.

The world of Santa is not all loving and giving, though - there is also a certain rivalry. With so many Santas in stores (around half a dozen in the West End alone), children can be suspicious as to whom is for real. Gitsham/Claus trumps the opposition with his beard, which he has not shaved since May. "On Christmas Eve, I'm going home and shaving it all off," he says. "I don't like it this thick."

Apart from the beard, there are one or two other tricks of the trade. Getting children to ask for a PlayStation is easy enough, but getting them to ask for a cheaper alternative is more tricky. And Gitsham/Claus has to keep his wits about him when explaining Rudolph's mysterious absence.

"I was terrified at first and it is hard work," says Gitsham/Claus. "You've got to be on your toes all the time for what children will say, but it's a lot of fun. You make the children's Christmas, and their parents'."