So, you know, you better watch out, and all that.
Some Santas who stayed home the past two years out of concern for their health have returned, but performers have pressing issues, including inflation, on their minds. Many are older, on fixed incomes and travel long distances to don the red suit. They spend hundreds on their costumes and other accoutrements.
Santa booker HireSanta.com has logged a 30% increase in demand this Christmas season over last year, after losing about 15% of its performers to retirement or death during the pandemic, said founder and head elf Mitch Allen.
He has a Santa database of several thousand with gigs at the Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York, various Marriott properties and other venues around the U.S. Most of Allen’s clients have moved back to kids on laps and aren’t considering covid-19 in a major way, he said, but Santa can choose to mask up.
Another large Santa agency, Cherry Hill Programs, is back up to pre-pandemic booking numbers for their 1,400 or so Santas working at more than 600 malls and other spots this year, said spokesperson Chris Landtroop.
“I can’t even explain how excited we are to see everyone’s smiles at all locations this season without anything covering up those beautiful faces,” she said.
Cherry Hill Santas are also free to wear masks, Landtroop said.
Allen and other agencies are juggling more requests for inclusive Santas, such as Black, deaf and Spanish-speaking performers. Allen also has a female Santa on speed dial.
“I haven’t been busted yet by the kids and, with one exception, by the parents, either,” said 48-year-old Melissa Rickard, who stepped into the role in her early 20s when the Santa hired by her father’s lodge fell ill.
“To have a child not be able to tell I’m a woman in one sense is the ultimate compliment because it means I’m doing Santa justice. It cracks my husband up,” added Rickard, who lives outside Little Rock. “I know there are more of us out there.”
By mid-November, Rickard had more than 100 gigs lined up, through HireSanta and other means.
“A lot of it is word-of-mouth,” she said. “It’s ‘Hey, have you seen the female Santa?'”
Rickard charges roughly $175 an hour as Santa, depending on the job, and donates all but her fuel money to charity. And her beard? Yak hair.
Eric Elliott’s carefully tended white beard is the real deal. He and his Mrs. Claus, wife Moeisha Elliott, went pro this year after first taking on the roles as volunteers in 2007. Both are retired military.
They spent weeks in formal Claus training. Among the skills they picked up were American Sign Language and other ways to accommodate people with disabilities. Their work has included trips into disaster zones with the Texas-based nonprofit Lone Star Santas to lend a little cheer.
The Elliotts, who are Black, say breaking into the top tier of Santas as first-time pros and Clauses of color hasn’t been easy. For some people, Eric said, “We understand that we’re not the Santa for you.”
Hope this is a better year for the Santa community. I’ve noted the Lone Star Santas and another Texas-based Santa employment agency before. These folks don’t make a lot of money doing this but they do have fun. That goes a long way.