FLORIDA, USA — A pre-pandemic staple might be in jeopardy for the second year in a row, this time because there might not be enough Santa Clauses to go around.
Last year, many Santas stayed out of the malls across the U.S. because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If they did appear, families and kids had to practice social distancing because it was one of the only defenses at the time from spreading the virus.
Now, despite more than half of the country being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the ability for kids ages 5 and older to get the shot, Santa Claus still may not be coming to some towns.
That's because while the demand is high for Santa, there just aren't enough Ol' St. Nicks to meet it.
"Everyone is wanting to go back to traditions," Mitch Allen, founder of HireSanta.com told the USA Today. "Our demand is up over 120% from pre-pandemic levels."
HireSanta.com has a nationwide database where thousands of Santa Clauses can be booked for events. Allen tells the USA Today over the past year, around 700 Santas passed away, and about 300-500 of them were because of COVID-19.
In addition to deaths during the pandemic, some Santas aren't donning the red suit because of ongoing pandemic safety concerns. That's due to the fact many Santas are older and could be at higher risk of complications from COVID, even if they're fully vaccinated.
Additionally, the apparent "shortage" of in-person Santas is due to retirement and more Santas sticking to virtual visits from the North Pole.
"Yes, we have lost some Santa Claus portrayal artists to COVID-19 and other illnesses, and other causes such as retirement," says "Santa" Ed Taylor, who has more than 4,000 members in his Worldwide Santa Claus Network. "We also have many new, first-year Santas and many Santas opting to provide virtual visits. It looks like any Santa shortage is due more to an increase in demand than a lack of supply. Virtual Santa visits have changed everything."
One silver lining to the high demand for Santa? The Jolly Old Saint is getting paid better.
Susen Mesco, who runs the Professional Santa Claus School in Denver, tells The Wall Street Journal her Santas are earning about 12 percent more this year than previous ones.