“You never promise anything. You don’t know the situation,” said Rick Pinnell, who has played Santa for the Boys and Girls Club of Augusta for more than 15 years.
Children seem to be taking cues from their parents’ financial straits as many are shortening their lists for Santa, Pinnell said. As kids whisper high-ticket items into the jolly old elf’s ear, Pinnell has learned gentle phrases over the years to sidestep promises and ease worrying parents.
“You can see the look on the parents’ faces,” Pinnell said. “They want to give their kids a lot of things but they know it’s going to be a bleak Christmas.”
At the Santa Claus Academy in Atlanta, founder and owner Gary Casey has trained more than 5,000 Santas to never promise a toy. That lesson is becoming more important, especially as requests have moved from Barbie dolls and baseball bats to expensive electronic game consoles.
“The kids are not stupid. They know exactly what is going on in the economy, and they get all this information from who? The parents,” Casey said.
At home, parents often tell a child some toys are too expensive. Children remember that when making their list and visiting Santa, Casey said.
Denzil Beeson, who has played Santa for 10 years, uses the same age-old wisdom year after year.
“You just tell them some things you can’t do,” Benson said. “You can tell a child who doesn’t have a lot because they don’t ask for a lot.”