One of the annual Christmas traditions for families with young children is a visit with Santa Claus. It’s a moment many kids look forward to every year, as satirically depicted (or maybe not so satirically) in the film “A Christmas Story.”
Is there a Santa shortage for the 2021 Christmas season?
Yes, there is a Santa shortage for the 2021 Christmas season due to increasing demand and fewer available Santas – both attributed in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Mitch Allen, the founder of HireSanta.com, a site where people can hire Santas, said the Santa shortage is a basic supply and demand issue.
“There are just fewer people than there are jobs,” he said.
Let’s start with demand.
Allen said his company has seen a 120% increase in Santa requests this year compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“We just can't meet that demand,” Allen said. “And unfortunately, we're having to turn away business right now.”
Allen said most people typically reach out in the late summer or early fall about booking Santas. He said people are already making Santa requests for 2022.
Stephen Arnold, the president of IBRBS (formerly known as the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas), an organization that represents more than 1,800 Santas and Mrs. Clauses, says his group has also noted an increase in demand, about 20%, this holiday season compared to 2019.
Arnold and Allen attributed the spike to the impacts the COVID-19 pandemic had on Santa visits last year. They reasoned that people are seeking an in-person Santa experience this year after missing out last year due to safety precautions. They said many people opted for virtual Santa visits last year, but it’s not the same.
“Parents want to have that one-on-one experience,” Arnold said.
But while demand for Santa has jumped, supply has declined. Allen said the number of available Santas for his business is down by about 10% compared to 2019.
The decline is due in part to COVID-19, Allen and Arnold said. In 2021, more than 335 people who played Santa had died, some due to COVID-19 and some for other reasons, Allen said.
Arnold noted that some of the traditional traits of Santa, overweight and older, can put people who perform as Santa at a disadvantage when battling COVID-19.
“We suffered a pretty substantial hit last year, as many people did,” Arnold said. “Our Santas are prime targets for COVID.”
Concern for personal safety is another reason some people have opted not to be Santa this year.
Tim Connaghan, known as the National Santa, sent out a survey to fellow Santas, in which he said 16% of respondents said they are planning to take the 2021 season off because of the pandemic. About 82% of respondents said they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.
While demand for in-person Santa visits has skyrocketed, those visits still may not be the same as they were before the pandemic. Many places got rid of the plexiglass barriers that were synonymous with Santa visits last year, but many Santas are still distancing and not having young children, who are potentially unvaccinated, sitting on their laps.
“We’re still taking those precautions, but you can still go and see Santa this year,” Allen said.
And while booking Santa may be difficult this season, Arnold said children should rest assured that Santa will still come through Christmas Day as he always does.
“He's got his elves busy at the North Pole making toys as rapidly as they can,” Arnold said. “He'll do his best to make sure that Christmas comes your way and not to worry about it.”