Even Santa Claus isn't immune to the effects of the recession. The New York Times reports that students and alums of the nation's largest Santa school are adjusting their act for our troubled economic times. Here, a brief guide:
First, what is this Santa school?
For the last 75 years, the non-profit Charles H. Howard Santa Claus School has worked to "uphold the traditions and preserve the history of Santa Claus." Its goal is to help students to "further define and improve their individual presentations of Santa Claus." Teachers cover the history of Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas, real-live reindeer habits, the correct dress and make-up for the job, building a social media presence, and saving for Santa retirement.
Who goes to Santa school?
All kinds, though many are portly, bearded, and older. This year's session, held in October, had the largest class yet with 115 students. Some of those in attendance had fallen on slim times. The Class of 2011 included an accountant, an aerospace engineer, and a 28-year-old making do with odd jobs. All paid the tuition — which will be $415 in 2012 for new students, $365 for returning — hoping to land a $50-an-hour job wearing the red suit at the local mall for extra income.
How is Santa's job different in a recession?
One Santa, Fred Honerkamp, recalls a little boy asking for "a pair of sneakers that actually fit," saying "it's hard to watch sometimes because the children are like little barometers, mirrors on what the country has been through." Other Santas note that more and more often, they're hearing kids ask Santa to bring their parents a job. At the other extreme, there are, of course, plenty of kids requesting shiny new toys and expensive gadgets when it's clear that their family can't afford them.
How are Santas dealing with these situations?
They say they feel it's more important than ever to keep kids' expectations in check. "I try to guide the children into not-so-unrealistic things, and I do tell them that Santa's been cutting back, too," says Tom Ruperd, a Santa from Michigan. Another St. Nick, Rick Parris, says he tells children with long Christmas lists flat-out, "hey, look, Johnny, you ain't getting all that." Others have come up with special routines for talking kids out of wanting an iPod. As for less tangible requests, Santas have to get more creative. "If they asked for something that's totally impossible — a job for Daddy, say — I usually tell them, 'Santa specializes in toys, but we can always pray on the other,'" Ruperd says. "'Is there anything in toys that you'd like?'"