The demand for traditional Santa visits is reaching record highs, but as COVID-19 concerns surge, many who have received the Santa “calling” are hanging up their hats.
“It’s been really great to have those human interactions face-to-face,” said Tori Cook, who made a reservation for Santa photos with her sister, Shina, and dog, Theo.
As stores reopen and events start back up, traditional Santa visits are in high demand. But this holiday season, jolly old elves are hard to come by, as a Santa shortage continues to sweep the nation.
According to this year’s Red Suit Survey, one in five Santa’s did not return to work in 2021.
For many, pandemic-related concerns continue to present challenges for the largely at-risk group.
“We don’t have sick days, we can’t call in, we don’t have health insurance,” said Santa Tim, a professional Santa in the Seattle area.
“We’ve been around for thousands of years, we’re kind of prime COVID targets,” he joked.
Santa Tim has proudly donned the red suit for 10 years. This year, he has new additions to his apparel, including a Christmas-themed mask and his vaccine card, which now sits in a pouch on his belt.
After hundreds of events and visits, Santa Tim has decided this year will be his last.
“I’m going to hang up the red bell trousers,” he said.
KIRO-7 tagged along for his last in-person Santa visit at Bayview Retirement Community. Santa Tim burst into a common space with his best, “Ho, ho, ho,” and began to greet the residents.
“I’m 95,” one resident told Santa Tim.
“95!? I remember when I was 95, that was a long time ago,” Santa Tim said back with a laugh.
It’s moments like these that he will miss the most.
“When I’m Santa, I could walk up to anybody, and they get a smile on their face and they start talking. It doesn’t matter if they’re a kid or adult,” Santa Tim said. “I’m going to miss that.”
Santa Tim said things like masks, distancing and vaccination status are driving Santas out of the industry. On one hand, some Santas who are unvaccinated are missing out on jobs, while others fear for their own health when private events request a “natural” (mask-free) Santa.
For Santa Tim, the decision to hang up the hat came from a new perspective brought about by the pandemic.
“COVID kind of reminds everyone that our time here is limited, and we might as well take advantage of it while we can,” he said.
While there are fewer Santas working this holiday season, families can still find them.
A quick Google search for Santas in your area ca
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