The economy is in the commode, and inflation rates are at historic highs. The U.S. supply chain is missing a few links, and no one wants to get off welfare and get back to productivity. Add in Christmas and Hanukkah, with merry souls finding a shortage of shiny objects under the tree or candelabra, and the United States seems void of spirit. It’s a grim picture. But nothing says festivity failure quite like killing off the department store Santa Claus.
Letters from the naughty and nice will have one thing in common: tantrum-throwing outrage.
Ho, Ho, Ho, Oh No!
What on earth could keep Santa wannabes from donning the red-velvet fur-trimmed suit with fake wool-crepe beard and allowing whiny, snot-crusted children to sit on their lap and beg for toys? Two reasons stand out: retirement and COVID. In one case, of all laborers, the mall Santa has earned the prize of withdrawal from the six-week season. On the other hand, the COVID situation is a different reindeer game altogether, and crowds seem to be a germ-spreading hotbed. And lines. Long lines waiting to snuggle up to a guy you’ve never met nor will likely meet again.
But for kids? Good luck to parents explaining what’s going on with the jolly old elf who now sits his happy hiney at the North Pole and bah-humbugging like another classic Christmas character. Mitch Allen, founder of HireSanta.com in Iowa, explained his 10% downtrend this year:
“As you can imagine, most Santa Claus entertainers are high risk for a negative outcome if they get COVID-19. A number of them are sitting this year out like they did last year, and, unfortunately, we lost a percent of them over the last 18 months due to COVID-19.”
Allen also noted the high demand this year: His company saw a 121% increase in Claus requests. In an interview with a prominent major daily, Allen glumly explained: “Several hundred Santas and Mrs. Clauses, over the last 18 months, have passed away, and it’s just a tragedy.” Allen did not cite the cause of death.
Another Santa-for-hire outfit in San Diego is seeing a similar trend. Royal Entertainers hires card-carrying actors to play Santa during the season. Owner Brittany Skipper told her local news station she had lost 20 Santa characters just this year alone. Santas are sleighing out of crowded areas for safer climes at home or where the creeping crud is not so prevalent. And that’s problematic when requests for the Claus couple and assorted elves have risen 120%.
But Santa Got the Vax, Right?
Santa agents aren’t the only ones boohooing the lack of participation. Tim Connaghan, who plays the role of National Santa for the Toys for Tots Foundation, polled 376 professional seasonal Santas in his Red Suit Survey. Results showed that 82% of responding Santas are fully vaccinated against the virus, but 18% opted out of season 2021. Even National Santa took a step back, cutting down his time significantly: “I’ve had all my shots and all my vaccinations, and I watch myself very closely. But I want to remain cautious, you know, and I’m also encouraging other Santas to do the same.”
One St. Nick says he misses the job and the kids but doesn’t need to risk his health. Darrick Betzenderfer is one such Santa, and his decision to stay away was a tough one: “I want it so bad. I miss it. The kids need Santa especially this time of year.”
~ Read more from Sarah Cowgill.