RALEIGH, N.C. — A job for their mom or dad. Money for the heating bill. Food or a place to live. Maybe gloves or boots.
With unemployment stubbornly high, more homes in foreclosure and the economic outlook dim, many children who visit Santa are all too aware of the struggle to make ends meet.
“These children understand the conditions around the home when they ask for stuff,” said Richard Holden, a 69-year-old Santa from Gastonia, N.C. “They understand when there are other children in the family, they need to be cautious or thoughtful of them as well and not ask for 10 to 12 items.”
Cliff Snider, who’s been playing Santa since he was a teenager, agrees.
“I think the parents are saying, ‘It’s an economic thing. Just list two to three things you really want to have,”’ he said. “Parents are trying to encourage the children to be thrifty.”
At the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, Santas learn lines like, “Wow, that’s a big gift. Is there anything else you might like?” These days, though, Santas are having to use it less and less.
“I think it’s becoming more popular not to have that long list,” said Tom Valent, dean of the Howard Santa school in Midland, Mich., which gets more than 3,000 letters to Santa a year and just graduated its 75th class. “Families are teaching their children to be as much of a giver as a receiver.”
Starlight Fonseca has been teaching her five children, ages 5 to 14, “that we’re not the only ones who have to cut things back. We’re not the only ones struggling.”
The 31-year-old mother and her husband Jose had been relying on a stipend from the University of Texas law school that Fonseca lost when an illness made it impossible for her to keep her grades up. She’d hoped to graduate in May but was unable to attend school this semester and can’t get student loans due to poor credit.
Fonseca tells her kids that “to make it fair for everyone, Santa has to cut back for everyone. … We paint it in a way that Santa is doing the best he can to make everybody happy at Christmas.”
It’s especially hard for the oldest children.
“They were two little kids who used to be excited about Christmas, and now they know every gift under the tree should have gone to the utility company,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s where we are now.”