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Responsible Mall Santa-ing in the Era of Hope & Change

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By Doug Powers  •  November 29, 2011 04:29 PM

**Written by Doug Powers

Christmas is on the way, and times continue to be tough for many. What do we tell those youngsters who for Christmas want nothing more than a job for a parent? If kids talk to Joe Biden they’ll be told they should blame Bush, but what should mall Santas tell the kids?

Helping children cope with unfortunate economic truths is part of the curriculum at the Charles W. Howard Santa School, and all that’s required is some compassion along with, well, from the sound of it, a bit of profiling:

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. 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?”

Here’s the approach one Santa takes:

“In the end, Santas have to be sure to never promise anything,” said Mr. Honerkamp, an alumnus of the school who also lectures here. He has devised his own tale about a wayward elf and slowed toy production at the North Pole for children who are requesting a gift clearly beyond their family’s price range. “It’s hard to watch sometimes because the children are like little barometers, mirrors on what the country has been through.”

It’s not a bad angle, really: “So you see, Billy, Santa’s helpers passed a North Pole stimulus and the elf union bosses ended up with most of the toys I was going to bring you. Then I loaned your stocking stuffers to Yukon Cornelius for his solar startup that just went bankrupt. Sorry… Ho! Ho! Ho!

If an explanation from Santa doesn’t help, cash-strapped parents may have to take a more radical approach.

Here’s another important down-economy tip for mall Santas: If anybody asks why the gas and mortgage gifts they were promised and looking forward to a couple of years ago never ended up under the tree, tell them that Santa can be replaced before next Christmas.

**Written by Doug Powers

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