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Pandemic professional Santa shortage leads to busy season for B.C.’s ‘Santa Bob’

Click to play video: 'Shortage of Santa’s helpers this holiday season' Shortage of Santa’s helpers this holiday season
The pandemic has created yet another holiday season shortage. Grace Ke tells why companies that supply Santa's helpers are turning down hundreds of requests this year – Nov 29, 2021

As COVID-19 continues to restrict some holiday gatherings, a professional Santa Claus in British Columbia says he’s never been busier.

The pandemic has created a shortage of Santas, said ‘Santa Bob’ Cristofoli, who has been dressing up as Jolly Old St. Nicholas at malls, private and public events since his retirement in 2018.

His calendar is fully booked from now until Christmas Eve with multiple bookings on several days.

“In fact, tomorrow I have a Zoom event with a child from the U.K.,” said Cristofoli.

“It’s the first time I’ve done an international Santa event and it tells me there is definitely a shortage of Santa helpers.”

Read more: COVID-19: Doctors share advice on how to gather safely during the holidays

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Cristofoli works for a service called HireaSanta.ca, which has offices in B.C., Ontario and Alberta.

Rozmin Watson, the company’s ‘North Pole operations manager,’ said she’s had to cancel nearly 289 bookings this season.

“We’re just telling them that we don’t have availability, or we’re fully booked.”

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More requests for Santas came in this year than last year, Watson added, likely due to the widespread availability of vaccines.

Professionals like Santa Bob, however, are in shorter supply — a change that came “abruptly and quickly” during the pandemic.

Read more: Saskatchewan health experts weigh in on possible impact of Omicron variant on holiday season

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“Most of our Santas are in the older age group,” Watson explained. “I’ve had people tell me they don’t want to work this year because they want to be able to visit with their grandkids.”

Some retired last year when the pandemic first struck, she said, while others are spending their holidays caring for relatives or getting a surgery that was postponed by COVID-19.

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Meanwhile, Santas like Cristofoli continue to meet children and families both in person and by Zoom.

This year, he said a glass wall will separate him from kids and parents, but they’ll be able to take their masks off in front of the barrier for a photo.

He also has a Christmas tree backdrop for Zoom calls from the North Pole.

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The need for Santa is greater now than ever, he added, particularly in B.C. where natural disasters have added to the strain residents already feel from COVID-19.

“We had the wildfires in the summertime, we have the floods in the [Fraser] Valley. I think people just want a break … It just brings joy to so many, for parents and children alike,” he said.

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