Dec 24, 2021 - Health

Santas in short supply across the U.S.

Illustration of a HELP WANTED sign leaning against a Santa hat.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Continued COVID-19 concerns and staffing shortages may mean the annual Santa meet-and-greet is just a joy of Christmas past.

The big picture: Demand for professional Santas surged this holiday season, but supply dwindled as many chose to retire or take the year off.

  • Many Santas fall into the high-risk category due to their age or weight. Hundreds have died since the beginning of the pandemic, many due to COVID-19, Slate reports.

What's happening: While some malls secured their Santas far in advance, others, like Minnesota's Mall of America, pivoted — opting for socially distant experiences instead.

  • "None of our Santas were comfortable going back to the way it used to be," Lando Luther, owner of The Santa Experience, a longtime tenant in the Mall of America, tells Axios Twin Cities' Audrey Kennedy. "They don't mind getting spit up or peed on, COVID-19 is the concern."

What they're saying: A spokesperson for Cherry Hill Programs — a national company that operates Santa photos for a number of major malls including Charlotte, North Carolina's SouthPark mall — tells Axios Charlotte's Katie Peralta Soloff they started their Santa recruitment earlier this year anticipating new pandemic-related challenges.

  • To attract and retain mall Santas, the company launched new referral programs.
  • The company wouldn't say whether shortages have impacted operations, but Santa photos are still happening at Charlotte's biggest malls.

Zoom out: IBRBS, an international membership organization of nearly 2,000 professional Santa and Mrs. Claus actors, say actors this winter are working 20% more than they did back in 2019.

  • The founder of Texas-based Hire Santa, Mitch Allen, tells CNN he has 10% fewer Santas available this year, but demand has more than doubled compared to pre-pandemic.

What's next: Shortage problems may compound from here with enrollment at "Santa schools" down and fewer prospective St. Nicks entering the industry.

This story includes reporting by Axios' Katie Peralta Soloff, Audrey Kennedy and Emma Way.

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