Santas Taught New Lessons Amid Economic Slump
Here, at the nation’s oldest, most celebrated, school for would-be Santa Clauses, much has stayed exactly the same over its nearly 75 years. A proper Claus ought to have pleasant breath, his beard curled just so and a hearty laugh that rumbles not from the throat but from deep below the diaphragm.
Yet this year, from the holiday parades, to the cheery carols piping from Main Street loudspeakers, to the “this way to Santa” lines at shopping centers, something more sobering has cast its shadow: the economic slump.
The result is a Christmas season in which Santas — including the 115 of them in this year’s graduating class of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School — must learn to swiftly size up families’ financial circumstances, gently scale back children’s Christmas gift requests and even how to answer the wish some say they have been hearing with more frequency — “Can you bring my parent a job?”
Santas here tell of children who appear on their laps with lists that include the latest, most expensive toys and their parents, standing off to the side, stealthily but imploringly shaking their heads no. On the flip side, some, like Fred Honerkamp, have been visited by children whose expectations seem to have sunk to match the gloom; not long ago, a boy asked him for only one item — a pair of sneakers that actually fit.