Mall Santas Switch Strategies for a Slumping Economy

With the economy looking less than jolly, the most celebrated Santa school in the country is training its St. Nicks to help trim wish lists.

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Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Santa Claus visits with Ian, 2, and sister Devin Rachiele, 4, at Golf Mill Mall in Niles, Ill. in 2003

It’s that time of year again, when the malls start lighting up with twinkly bulbs and the sounds of Mariah Carey fill stores. And amid this festive atmosphere likely snakes a line of both excited and terrified children, with their beleaguered parents in tow, waiting to see the season’s main man: Santa Claus. It’s a familiar scene, but with this year’s battered economy, those parents just might seem a little more beleaguered than before.

Christmas can always add pressure to even the least cash-strapped families with pricey gifts, decorations and travel. Add in a sluggish economy, maybe a layoff or two, plus kids with extensive wish lists, and the holiday could seem anything but jolly. Which is why an institution dubbed the “nation’s oldest, most celebrated, school for would-be Santa Clauses” by the New York Times, is trying to help. The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan is now training its Santas to help curb kids’ expectations to avoid disappointments come Dec. 25.

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The Times reports from the Santa school, where prospective St. Nicks are now being taught how to quickly assess a family’s financial situation before responding to children’s requests in such a manner that leaves them feeling cheerful, but not overly expectant. Some Santas plan to tell kids that times are tough even in the North Pole, while another strategy is to tell kids that not everyone gets everything they ask for.

Yet not all children seem totally out of the loop when it comes to their parent’s financial worries. A few Santas say they’ve had to field wishes not for kids’ toys, but for employment for mom or dad.

“In the end, Santas have to be sure to never promise anything,” a seasoned Santa named Fred Honerkamp told the Times. “It’s hard to watch sometimes because the children are like little barometers, mirrors on what the country has been through.”

Which is precisely why it’s so heartening to hear that there are Santas out there that still care enough to bring some cheer.

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