The Recession-Trained Santa Claus?

December 20th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Is it good that mall Santas are managing kids’ expectations?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

I’ve always wondered what kind of fallout ensues in homes after kids wake up on Christmas morning to find drastically different presents than what they asked from the Santa at the mall. But in tough economic times, it seems that shopping mall Santas are being trained to manage kids’ expectations.

The New York Times reports that students at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Michigan are taught to “swiftly size up families’ Christmas gift requests.” Furthermore, they’re learning how to answer a tough request they’ve been hearing with greater frequency: “‘Can you bring my parent a job?’” Some Santas tell of kids who arrive with lists of the latest, most expensive toys, as parents stand off to the side, “stealthily but imploringly shaking their heads no.” On the flip side, according to the Times, some kids’ requests match the gloom – for instance, one child asked only for a pair of shoes that fit properly.

“In the end, Santas have to be sure to never promise anything,” says one alumnus and lecturer at the Santa school. To lower the expectations of kids requesting a gift beyond their family’s price range, this particular Santa has an elaborate story he uses about a wayward elf and slowed toy production at the North Pole. For those children with less tangible asks, one Santa suggests redirecting back to Santa’s specialty: “If they asked for something that’s totally impossible – a job for Daddy, say, ‘Santa specializes in toys, but we can always pray on the other.’”

It may sound like a depressing take on a holiday tradition, but the Santas have their reasons. Despite a strong showing on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, The Huffington Post reports that, “The majority of consumers are freaking out about their financial outlook and barely making ends meet as income disparity continues to widen, particularly among blacks, Hispanics and single women.”

A November poll of 2,810 adults aged 18 and over by the National Endowment for Financial Education found that "49 percent of Americans are much/somewhat more concerned about being able to afford holiday expenses this season” than they were before the recession. Of those adults, 54 percent plan to spend less than they did five years ago.

What do you think of shopping mall Santas managing the expectations of kids in the recession? Does it limit the holiday imagination, or make life easier for mom and dad? Sound off here.