Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Santas Have New Responsibilities This Holiday Season

The bad economy and ongoing unemployment are creating new challenges for Santas. From the NY Times:

The result is a Christmas season in which Santas — including the 115 of them in this year’s graduating class of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School — must learn to swiftly size up families’ financial circumstances, gently scale back children’s Christmas gift requests and even how to answer the wish some say they have been hearing with more frequency — “Can you bring my parent a job?”


On the flip side, some, like Fred Honerkamp, have been visited by children whose expectations seem to have sunk to match the gloom; not long ago, a boy asked him for only one item — a pair of sneakers that actually fit.

“In the end, Santas have to be sure to never promise anything,” said Mr. Honerkamp, an alumnus of the school who also lectures here. He has devised his own tale about a wayward elf and slowed toy production at the North Pole for children who are requesting a gift clearly beyond their family’s price range. “It’s hard to watch sometimes because the children are like little barometers, mirrors on what the country has been through.”

Christmas is a hard, hard time for folks who are treading water in this economy. Our consumer culture bombards us with ads for things we must want, and the latest in cool toys. Kids get caught up in all of this, and it can be very difficult to explain financial realities to them. We don't want our kids to worry or feel bad. The new Santas are working on developing tools to handle all of this.

Given the state of the economy, this Santa school graduated the largest Santa class in its history. Many of the graduates have a Santa history, but a number of them are underemployed, needing to supplement retirement, or are flat out unemployed. The Santa gig doesn't last long, but it does pay decently. Mall Santas earn somewhere between $25 and $50 an hour.

These new Santas will need all of the skills they've just learned to deal with the kinds of situations they're seeing as a result of this economy. Most of us don't think much about Santas, or the kind of situations they have to deal with. This story has given me a whole new appreciation for the people who do this, especially during bad economic times.

This Santa's story is enough to make even Scrooge tear up a little:

“If they asked for something that’s totally impossible — a job for Daddy, say — I usually tell them, ‘Santa specializes in toys, but we can always pray on the other,’ ” Mr. Ruperd said. “ ‘Is there anything in toys that you’d like?’ ”

Let's all do what we can to help one another in this holiday season.

Cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

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