He may be checking his list and checking it twice, finding out who is naughty or nice, but Santa Claus might not be coming to town this year amid a nationwide shortage of the Christmas icon.
Last year, Santas throughout the country were losing gigs as it was the first holiday season of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Santa visits were mostly held online. But with vaccines now available and national COVID-19 rates much lower than last holiday season, many people are wanting to go back to the traditional visits with Santa. Except this year, Santas are much harder to come by.
"Everyone is wanting to go back to traditions," Mitch Allen, founder of HireSanta.com, which has a nationwide database of thousands of Santa Clauses that can be booked for events, told USA TODAY. "Our demand is up over 120% from pre-pandemic levels."
Allen described people feeling "pent up" about wanting to go all-out for Christmas this year to make up for last year, so shopping malls, companies and even families are trying to get Santa to show up. But there is concern about going back to those old traditions.
Allen said over the past year, around 700 Santas passed away, but around 300-500 of them were due to COVID-19. Santas are typically older, which can place them at higher risk of dealing with severe complications of the virus. That may also be why some don't want to don the iconic red suit out in public and interact with hundreds of people at once.
Stuart Deacon Jr., a 26-year-old Santa in the Houston area, said the one thing that worries him is making sure people, especially children, are clean when they visit him, as a number of his "brothers and sisters" have passed away due to COVID-19. When he's not Santa, Deacon works at a COVID-19 testing center at a local school district, so he has seen how damaging the pandemic has been to his community and he wants to ensure the virus doesn't spread through his gigs.
If Santas are choosing to be in-person, expect precautions such as social distancing, so children more than likely still won't be able to sit on Santa's lap.
"It would be the worst thing in the world for a Santa Claus performer to unknowingly spread COVID," Deacon said. "Santa Claus does not bring coronavirus, so we all are very, very meticulous."
Another factor is demand is increasing far too late in the year. Mitch said people think trying to book around early November is a good time frame, but actually he begins booking in January. So if people were planning on having Santa for their event on December weekends, they are most likely out of luck, as he says there are thousands of holiday events that have yet to book a Santa.
"We're asking our clients to have some flexibility about dates and times," he said. "We just can't do it… It is an administrative calendaring nightmare."
Deacon said that he was getting booked for gigs as early as July and by the time it was October, all of his December weekends were booked. He added he's also turned down offers because of the hectic schedule.
"There's just not enough of Santa Clauses to go around," he said.
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Allen and Deacon aren't the only ones having to tell people they may not see Santa this year, as other booking companies have reached out for help in finding available Santas.
Susan Mesco, founder of the Professional Claus School in Denver, told the Wall Street Journal that in her near 40 years of booking Santas, she's never experienced a year like this one, and she's had to turn down numerous potential clients.
It's not just Santas that are needed either. Allen mentioned there is also demand for Mrs. Claus, elves and just about any other Christmas-related characters.
If people are interested in becoming a Santa but unsure how to fit the character, Old Navy is hosting a virtual Santa BOOTcamp on Nov. 19 for anyone wanting to play the role. To make the figure "more representative of modern-day culture," Old Navy is encouraging people from "all backgrounds, ethnicities and cultural heritages" to participate in the free event.
But if people feel like they are ready to go down the chimney of holiday spirit, Allen said he is looking for you. After all, Santa can make a few thousand dollars working from now through December.
"If you've got a real beard, a real belly, you're real jolly and you've got that Christmas spirit, that's who we're hunting for," Allen said. "We'd love to help Santas get more work and also help to spread the love and joy of Christmas to more people."
Deacon also wants people to remember the amount of stress and exhaustion a Santa might be under due to the hectic schedule. But despite all the pressure, he is still going to give all of his holiday spirit.
"We just want to make sure that if you want us to be part of your Christmas celebrations, we're doing our part." he said. "We know how important it is to spread holiday cheer."
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Where can kids visit Santa? Mall photos may be lost holiday tradition
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