Santa Claus shortage being felt in Colorado this year

It’s simple Claus and effect.

An increase in holiday gatherings and events over past pandemic winters and a dwindling pool of Saint Nicks mean 2022 has been a tough year in Colorado to nail down an appointment with the big man in the red suit, according to companies that provide Santa Clauses.

Sleigh it ain’t so!

“We are having more demand this year and that includes in Denver as well as pretty much every other part of the country,” said Mitch Allen, head elf at national Santa-for-hire business HireSanta.

Allen said his firm has seen a 30% increase in demand for Santas-for-hire since 2021 and a 125% increase since before the pandemic. For every new Santa who reaches out to work with HireSanta, there are 20 customers who need a Santa, he said.

There are more than 2,250 jobs for full-season Santas, elves and other holiday entertainers open across the industry, Allen said, with more people seeking diverse Santas, from Black Santas and Mrs. Clauses to those who are deaf, Spanish-speaking or female.

“Weekends in December for hourly events are already sold out in most markets,” Allen said. “We are turning down more business than ever before.”

Wrangling a Santa Claus for the Christmas market at Littleton equine center Zuma’s Rescue Ranch is usually a piece of cake, but this year an employee searched exhaustively to no avail.

“My 6-foot-4, skinny, marathon-runner husband had to do it because we couldn’t find anybody, and he had to wear a fat suit,” said Jodi Messenich, Zuma’s founder. “He walked out and started doing the ‘ho, ho, ho’ and his fat suit was hanging out under his jacket. I had to quickly grab him and whisper, ‘Honey, your flesh is hanging out.’”

Susen Mesco, director of Colorado-based Professional Santa Claus School and president of Santa-for-hire business Santa Visits USA, said she feels like Lucy Ricardo trying to keep up with the chocolate factory’s conveyor belt.

Mesco — who’s also a member of the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame — said she booked more than 1,300 events this season with a pool of 40 Santas in Colorado.

Mesco’s Kris Kringles undergo 180 hours of training to learn the ropes of being Father Christmas. Her Santas learn American Sign Language, Spanish and how to work with autistic children and those with special needs, she said. And they have real-deal beards and receive hours of makeup training.

Rather than tossing their kids on a mall Santa’s lap for a few seconds, Mesco said parents are craving more personalized interactions and experiences for their little ones and Saint Nick. For example, Mesco is coordinating several pajama parties at which families dress up in their most festive sleepwear and watch a movie with Santa.

During COVID-19, virtual Santa Claus visits also have become popular.

The key to locking in time with the holly, jolly man of the hour is to book early, Mesco said.

Like, really early.

“If you don’t book your Santa in January, February or March, you’re not going to get that Saturday prime time,” Mesco said. “If you don’t book with me by May, you’re not going to get Christmas Eve. If your wedding was this Saturday, and you tried to order a cake and a dress today, you’re not going to get them. Hello?!”

Most in the professional Santa business said COVID-19 hit the North Pole hard. Many Santas have retired during the pandemic, said Ron Tivey, a 67-year-old freelance Father Christmas from Longmont who also twists balloons at restaurants. Tivey has turned down several Santa jobs this year because he can’t keep up with the demand.

“The biggest problem is we’ve had several die in the last three or four years,” said Princess Wallace, owner of Colorado-based Connect 4 Events. “With that in mind, I have to constantly recruit. If I see a guy that would be a great Santa, I go up to him and hand him my card and say, ‘I bet you’re retired. How would you like to be a Santa?’”

Enrollment in Mesco’s Santa school, which has been running since the 1980s and normally has a class of about 60 wannabe Santas, was low during the pandemic. Mesco echoed that some Santas “took their last sleigh ride,” as well.

“I just got calls from three malls that their Santa has COVID,” Mesco said.

Even among the available Santas, many are falling victim to COVID-19, flu and other maladies making the rounds, contributing to the scramble for last-minute replacements. Choosing a reputable fellow to shake his belly like a bowl full of jelly is important, Mesco said. Her Saint Nicks carry general liability insurance and pass a slew of background checks, she said.

“Sometimes when people book through third-party sites, they don’t know if that Santa has insurance, clean background checks or if he’s John Wayne Gacy who went out and bought a $50 Party City suit,” Mesco said.

To combat Santa sicknesses, Mesco said her events set up Santa-tizing stations complete with tissues, hand sanitizer and disposable masks. Her Santas are changing their gloves once an hour and they’re using inhalers with anti-viral essential oils.

“If your child has the sniffles, don’t bring them to Santa — because if you get Santa sick, there’s probably another 8,000 kids that can’t see a Santa,” Mesco said.

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