Santa Shortage Presenting Malls With Big Pre-Christmas Headache

By Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.
November 11, 2021 Updated: November 15, 2021

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, but it’s not easy believing in a “Higher Elf” when he’s so hard to find.

Professional “Santa” staffing agencies report the market for mall and private Santas is running hot this holiday season because of fewer people wanting to be the bearded man in red.

So much so that the traditional “elf-portrait” with your child and Kris Kringle in the North Pole may have to wait.

“It’s a huge increase in demand—an unprecedented demand,” says Mitch Allen, “Head Elf” at HireSanta.com, which logged a 121 percent increase in requests in October compared to 2020. The pandemic saw business “pretty much flat.”

At the same time, Allen said he sees 15 to 20 percent fewer Santas at malls and private events this holiday season.

Many have either retired, or passed away, or they’ve refused to comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

“There is a shortage of Santas this year,” said Allen, a professional Santa for hire who founded the company six years ago.

“As you can imagine, Santa is in a high-risk group. Some don’t want to go back [to work] due to COVID,” he said.

“Others are hanging up the red hat” and retiring after a long career playing the role of Kris Kringle.

To meet the high demand the company is offering virtual visits with the Jolly Old Elf this year, as it did last year during the pandemic.

The company is also asking employees and clients to be more flexible with regard to scheduling.

“Most of the men that are Santas, and the women who are Mrs. Claus, enjoy the season and bringing the season to life. It’s very tiring being a Santa when you’re on set performing six to eight weeks [straight],” Allen said.

But wait—there’s ‘myrrh’

HireSanta is always seeking new talent.

A professional mall Santa can earn $30-$75 an hour and up to $500 an hour at private events.

At PWA Santa Agency in Colorado, owner and “Board of Santas” head Larry Propp said the present shortage is exacerbated by constant turnover made worse by COVID-19.

“There is a percentage of Santas that say they don’t want to be vaccinated. The other part is you’re going to have a percentage who are going to pass away,” Propp said.

Propp said many Santas are in their 60s and 70s. But the older they get, the harder it is to keep up with the long hours working with throngs of children.

Mall Santas are ‘elf taught’

As a talent agency, Propp said there are strict requirements for becoming a professional Santa.

“They have to be real, bearded Santas. We don’t take on anyone who has a theatrical beard,” Propp told The Epoch Times.

The company uses a special handbook on the art of being Santa Claus.  There’s a chapter on “Who’s Been Naughty or Nice?”, one on “Being Good for Goodness Sake,” and a chapter on “Choosing Your Reindeer Wisely.”

Another chapter covers taking photos with Santa and becoming one with the role.

Training can take one to two days, as Santas are “elf-taught”, so to speak.

“I’ve had Santas who have been with me over 20 years,” said Propp, who is in his 18th year as a professional Santa.

“Last year, I was behind plexiglass and couldn’t have contact [because of COVID]. I can tell you we’ve never had enough Santas. It’s been constant.”

On average, the company will lose two Santas from death each year and another 8 percent for health reasons.

“I have one Santa in his 12th year with me who lives in an RV and just travels,” Propp said.

It’s a job that could ‘suit’

“I have a few that are unvaccinated. They’ve all been able to get jobs. Do I see it as an issue? I see it as an issue that can be worked out, if you’ve got time.”

Propp said the starting salary of a newly minted Santa is around $8,000 per season. A more seasoned Claus can earn $10,000 to $12,000.

Nationwide Santas in Las Vegas is another agency that hires and places Santas.

Instant Photo Corp. of America specializes in mall Santa and Easter Bunny photography.

Allen said HireSanta usually will deploy around 1,000 Santas at various locations.

Each and every one of them has been vetted and background-checked before they are ready to face lines of screaming children.

Children weeing, vomiting, and pulling on Santa’s beard are just occupational hazards, he said.

“If you’ve been in the red suit long enough, you’re going to have a story.

“We like to say real beard, real belly, real jolly. You’ve got to have that love and joy of Christmas,” Allen said.

Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.