Meeting Santa is a time-honored tradition for families with little kids. But this year, it may be more difficult to get face time with the big guy in red, and it all has to do with the labor shortage and health and safety concerns born out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A nationwide shortage of Santas could mean that many kids won't get the chance to tell Santa what they want for Christmas this year. With the holidays upon us, many malls and stores are still struggling to find Santas, leaving parents to explain why Santa Claus is not coming to town. The reasons can be traced to the U.S. labor shortage, which apparently, is stretching as far as the North Pole.
Mitch Allen, the head of Hire Santa, a company that provides Christmas characters to stores and events nationwide, said that he's never seen a demand or shortage of Santas of this magnitude. He says that while demand for Santas has surged more than 120 percent, the number of available Kris Kringles has dropped by double digits.
"Number one is, you can imagine that Santa Claus entertainers are at high risk for negative consequences if they catch COVID," explained Allen.
Darrick Betzenderfer is among the Santas who will be sitting this year out.
"I want it so bad, I miss it," he said. "The kids need Santa, especially this time of year."
Some families are making reservations weeks in advance so that their kids can meet Santa.
If you do manage to get a time slot, you'll likely find COVID-19 safety protocols in place. At many locations, Santas are vaccinated and kids can sit six feet away or next to him, but not on his knee. Masks are required for those over 2 years old. In some cases, masks can come off for pictures, but that's up to the customer.
"Safety is the number one thing for our guests first and foremost," Steven Sayers, senior general manager of Glendale Galleria, told TODAY. "So their level of comfort and how they feel about the sensory experience is what matters the most."
For little ones like 3 1/2-year-old Dominic La Porte, meeting Santa for the first time was a highlight of the holidays.
"I like it!" he said about the experience.
In the wake of COVID-19, many holiday traditions have been shaken up. With Christmas trees getting more expensive and even a wine and spirit shortage due to supply chain issues, these things can be a buzzkill. Even though the pandemic may change the way we celebrate, the message of Christmas stays the same.
"I would love people to be happy, and to be safe," said one Santa.
If you're planning to meet Santa, companies recommend making online reservations as early as possible, as time slots are filling up fast.