There May Not Be a Santa to Visit This Christmas Season—Here's Why

A shortage could affect your ability to get a pic with Jolly Old Saint Nick.

For many of us, going to see Santa was a highlight of the Christmas season as a kid. You got to sit on his lap and tell him the top items on your list—and on Christmas morning, you found out if Old Saint Nick delivered on his promises. The tradition has continued, and perhaps you've taken your own kids and grandkids to get their photo taken on the big guy's lap. This year, however, experts have cautioned that Santa Claus may not make any early trips down from the North Pole. Read on to find out why there might not be a Santa to visit this Christmas season.

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Traditions around Jolly Old Saint Nicholas go back hundreds of years.

santa claus macy's thanksgiving day parade
lev radin / Shutterstock

The legend of Santa dates back to the 3rd century, according to History.com, when Saint Nicholas was the real-life patron saint of children. After his death, Saint Nick remained popular, and we have the Dutch to thank for introducing "Santa Claus" (derived from the Dutch nickname "Sinter Klaas") to American popular culture in the 18th century. Saint Nick's fame only grew—with Washington Irving naming him the patron saint of New York in 1809—and Santa soon became synonymous with the newer tradition of gift-giving on Christmas.

How we've come to picture Santa's jolly appearance is attributed to Clement Clarke Moore's 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," commonly referred to as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," per History.com. As for the shopping mall Santa that we know and love, he started as a life-size model at a Philadelphia shop in 1841, with stores later teasing the appearance of a visit from a "live" Santa Claus.

Santa has also been a staple in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade since its inaugural year in 1924. To this day, children still visit Macy's department stores and retailers across the country to take their pictures with Santa. Unfortunately, this beloved tradition is facing a major impediment.

Santa Claus may not be coming to town.

santa visiting with little girl
Natali Kuzina / Shutterstock

Santa Claus is in charge of making his list and checking it twice, but he might have to figure out gifts without hearing from kids directly. According to a newsletter from NPR's Planet Money podcast, there's a high demand for Santa's services, and his elves are struggling to accommodate his busy schedule.

"Here at Hire Santa, demand is higher than it's ever been before," Mitch Allen, founder and "Head Elf" of HireSanta.com, a staffing agency for holiday entertainers, told Planet Money. In fact, demand is up a whopping 125 percent compared to pre-COVID years.

"We are turning down more events this year than we've ever turned down before," Allen said. "There's definitely a shortage of Santas."

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COVID concerns threw a wrench in Santa's plans.

christmas covid protocols
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Allen attributes the shortage to that elusive "return to normalcy" so many of us have been clamoring for, especially during the holiday season. Businesses opted not to have in-person visits when COVID was at its height over the last two years, and some professional Santas—who are older and more likely to have health conditions—retired when the pandemic hit.

This year, in-person traditions are back and Santas are making a bit more money for spreading Christmas cheer (thanks to the simple law of supply and demand). Still, there are only so many Santas willing, able, and eligible to take on the jobs.

Many employers are looking for "real-bearded Santas," Allen told Planet Money, and that familiar facial hair can take anywhere from six months to a year to grow. There are also a whole host of requirements and background checks for professional Santas.

Thankfully, Stephen Arnold, president of the International Brotherhood of Real-Bearded Santas (and a professional Santa himself), assured Planet Money that the number of Santas is slowly climbing back to pre-pandemic levels, and a "shortage" might be a bit of an exaggeration. Inability to book could just depend on when you're looking to have Santa visit.

"Today, I probably had 10 calls asking me to come on Saturday, Dec. 17," Arnold told Planet Money, pointing to more desirable time slots. "No, I can't. I'm busy. I've been booked for weeks and weeks. But if you're willing to have Santa on like Tuesday morning, or Wednesday afternoon, it could still work."

The shortage isn't stopping some shopping malls from hosting Santas.

waiting to see santa
eddtoro / Shutterstock

Speaking to Arnold's point, shopping malls in certain parts of the country have yet to feel the pangs of a real Santa shortage, according to the Daily Herald. Malls in the suburbs of Chicago have thankfully been able to maintain Santa's regular appearances.

"Knock on wood, we have had no problems," Lisa Aurand, marketing and business development manager of Yorktown Center in Lombard, Illinois, told the Daily Herald, confirming that their Santa was booked through mall Santa company Amuse Matte.

"The Santa schedule here is the same as in previous years," Bonni Pear, a public relations representative for Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois, also told the outlet. "There are lots of people, lots of interest and no issue here at the mall." According to Pear, the mall's Santa was booked through Cherry Hill Programs, which sent Santa to visit several malls across the Chicago area.

Warwick Mall in Rhode Island still has Santas on staff as well, NBC-affiliate WJAR reported, so it might be worth it to reach out to your local mall or retailer to confirm whether Saint Nick plans to make an appearance. For those planning events for next year, Allen suggests looking into things early, as Hire Santa is already taking appointments for 2023.

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