Don’t look for plastic partitions or distant benches when Santa visits this year. The jolly old elf is back, in pre-pandemic style, and he’s got some pressing issues on his mind.
Santa booker HireSanta.com has seen a 30% increase in demand this Christmas season compared to last year, after losing about 15% of its performers to retirement or death during the pandemic, said the founder and head elf Mitch Allen.
He has a database of several thousand Santa Clauses with gigs at Bloomingdale’s New York flagship store, various Marriott properties, and other venues across the United States. Most of Allen’s customers are back to kids on their knees and don’t consider COVID-19 a big deal. , he says, but Santa Claus can choose to hide.
Another big Santa agency, Cherry Hill Programs, is back to pre-pandemic booking numbers for their roughly 1,400 Santas working in more than 600 malls and other locations this year, spokesman Chris Landtroop said. .
“I can’t even explain how thrilled we are to see everyone’s smiles everywhere this season with nothing hiding those beautiful faces,” she said.
Cherry Hill Santas are also free to wear masks, Landtroop said.
Among the most remarkable Santa Clauses who always keep their distance? There will be no visits to Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square in New York City. Santa Claus is sitting behind his desk.
Some Santas who have stayed home for the past two years out of concern for their health have returned to the ho ho ho game, but Allen is desperately trying to fill his pipeline with new artists.
Inflation also took a bite out of Santa Claus. Many are older, on fixed incomes and travel long distances to don the red suit. They spend hundreds on their costumes and other accessories.
“We charge customers a little more and we also pay our Santas a little more,” Allen said.
Reservations for many Santa Clauses have been made months in advance and some operate year round. Allen’s Santas will earn $5,000 to $12,000 for the season.
However, a few Santas told The Associated Press that they weren’t bothered by the cost. They are not in the profession of Santa Claus to earn money, but do it for pure joy.
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 stopped by the kids yet and, with one exception, by the parents either,” said Melissa Rickard, 48, who took on the role in her early 20s when Santa Claus was hired by his father’s lodge. fell ill.
“Having a kid who can’t say I’m a woman in a way is the ultimate compliment because it means I’m doing Santa justice. It cracks my husband up,” added Rickard, who lives away of Little Rock, Arkansas “I know there are more of us than that.”
By mid-November, Rickard had over 100 concerts scheduled through Hire Santa and other means.
“It’s largely word of mouth,” she said. “It’s ‘Hey, have you seen the Santa woman?'”
Rickard charges around $175 an hour as Santa Claus, depending on the job, and donates all but his fuel money to charity. And his beard? Yak hair.
Eric Elliott’s neatly groomed white beard is the real deal. He and his Mrs. Claus, his wife Moeisha Elliott, turned professional this year after first taking on the role of volunteers in 2007. Both are retired military personnel.
They spent weeks in formal Claus training. Among the skills they learned were American Sign Language and other ways to accommodate people with disabilities. Their work has included trips to disaster areas with the Texas-based nonprofit Lone Star Santas to give some joy.
The Elliotts, who are black, say it hasn’t been easy to rise to the top tier of Santa Clauses as first-time pros and clauses of color. To some people, Eric said, “We understand we’re not Santa Claus to you.”
The Santa Experience at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota has six Saint Nicks, including two black ones and its first Asian Santa. Tours in Spanish and Cantonese are planned.
Working odd jobs, including house calls, the Elliotts have seen how hard the price hike has hit some people. They have lowered their rates at times when they feel people are struggling.
“People have issues just eating, but they don’t want to miss the experience,” Eric said. Sometimes, he says, “You’ll run into them and you’ll be like, ‘Go ahead and stick with it. I know you worked hard for this.
For other clients, the Elliotts charge between $150 and $300 per hour.
Charles Graves, a rare professional deaf Santa Claus from New Braunfels, Texas, said through an interpreter that he was inspired to grow his beard and don the costume partly by awkward encounters with Fathers Christmas hearing in his childhood.
“As a kid, I was really excited to get a present, but then you walk away and you think there’s no connection there. Kids look at me now and they’re like, wow, you know, there’s a connection to deaf culture. And I can still connect with hearing kids as well,” said Graves, a vivacious Santa at 52.
Graves, who works at a school for deaf children, has also been trained to be Santa Claus. He works as Santa Claus with interpreters. The break-in was difficult and expensive, he says, but “it’s something really, really important to me.”
By mid-November, he had more than a dozen concerts, including a parade in Santa Paula, California, a mall in Austin, Texas, and Morgan’s Wonderland, a nonprofit accessible theme park in San Antonio. He also does Zoom tours.
Among Santa’s rising costs this year are his duds. The price of suits, from bespoke to off-the-peg, has risen about 25%, said Stephen Arnold, 72, a longtime Santa Claus who heads the International Brotherhood of Bearded Real Santas, which counts More than 2000 members.
“Most artists I know raise their rates, mostly because of transportation, accommodation, and material costs,” he said. “Personally, I’m raising my rates a bit for new clients but keeping the prices this year for my repeat gigs.”
Arnold, who is in Memphis, Tennessee, charges between $250 and $350 an hour. Other members of his organization, depending on location and experience, charge between $100 and $500 an hour, the latter in major cities like Los Angeles. Some, he said, don’t know their value and underestimate it at $50 or $75 an hour.
As for the pandemic, Arnold hasn’t heard about it from his clients, compared to last year and 2020, when he was working inside a snow globe. The Santas he knows seem unfazed.
“I’m surprised how few people care about it,” Arnold said. “I visit my wife twice a day in a nursing home. I am diabetic. I mean, most of us are fat old men.
New York Post