Christmas is just around the corner but you may struggle to spot a Santa spreading joy in the United States this holiday season.
That’s because the pandemic has caused a shortage of Father Christmases, according to a booking company and Santa Claus training school.
After festivities were kept to a minimum last year due to Covid-19, parties are back for Christmas 2021 but the supply of plump, white-bearded men in red is way behind demand.
“There’s a tremendous shortage of Santa Claus entertainers,” Mitch Allen, founder of Texas-based rental agency Hire Santa, told AFP.
Allen said there has been a 120 per cent increase in demand for Santas this season compared to 2020 as businesses, schools and shopping malls host celebrations again.
But the number of Santas on his books has dropped 10 percent compared to 2019, meaning he has a shortfall of “over 1000 positions” this season.
“Unfortunately, we’re just not able to meet the huge demand that we’re receiving right now,” said Allen, wearing a green elf costume on a video call.
The supply slump is despite many organizations having decided to cancel activities, fearful of the highly transmissible Omicron variant that has once again put the world’s health systems on high alert.
Contributing to the shortfall have been the deaths from coronavirus of more than 335 of Allen’s Santas this year, he said.
Many, given that they are high-risk due to their age, have decided to hang up their red suit and bobble hat for the time being while others have opted to retire.
In a good year, a Santa Claus can earn between $6,000 and $10,000 over the course of the early November to Christmas Eve season, said Allen.
But the pandemic has meant fewer candidates are aspiring to be Old Saint Nick, according to the Professional Santa Claus School in Denver.
The academy has suffered a 25 percent drop in applications since the pandemic, according to founder Susen Mesco, despite training moving online.
“In the last two years, 28 Santas graduated when the usual number is 120,” she said in an email to AFP. “Age is an important factor,” since most of the Santas are over 70 years old, Mesco added.
Allen predicts that the shortage will continue “for years to come.” “This year, we have people already booking for 2022. We never had that before,” he explained.
But Allen’s not about to lower standards to boost numbers. “Not everybody can be Santa. You have to have to look like Santa Claus. You gotta have that twinkle in your eye and that love for Christmas.”