The Relentless Commercialisation Of Santa Claus:

Wanted: “ An enthusiastic, confident, jolly individual aged between 25-75 years old who believes in Christmas magic. Own beard an advantage. Personal experience not necessary: Full training and a quality costume will be provided. If you don’t have a large tummy, no problem. A synthetic one can be made available”.

This was the gist of the criteria specified by the Hillside Nursery Centre in Newton Abbey, Northern Ireland, when they were looking for someone to portray Father Christmas in their festive Grotto this year. The salary would be £12 per hour – somewhat less than the £25 per hour paid by Envisage Promotions for the same position at a shopping centre in Maidstone, Kent.

Both of these, however, compare favourably to the prevailing rates for Santa’s assistants, the elves, who get £11 per hour in Maidstone, between £5.30 and £9.00 per hour at the Planet Ice skating rink in Milton Keynes, “up to £9 per hour” at the Bentalls department store in Kingston Upon Thames and £7-£8 per hour at the Aldenham Country Park in Elstree.

Traditionally, “looking the part”, with a hearty laugh, a charismatic personality and a corpulent body were all that were needed to obtain a temporary Santa job. Not any more. Venues such as Capital Gardens in Sherfield, just north of Basingstoke, these days insist that applicants should have prior experience and training – which is why there are now several organisations in the UK that offer courses on how to be Father Christmas.

On the 27th November, for example, the events company Ministry of Fun hosted its annual “Santa School” at Southwark Cathedral in London, which included “all aspects of the role from boots to beard” and was designed to ensure that the students would be “equipped with a sack-full of responses for every potential scenario, especially the difficult questions they were likely to be asked by children”,

The “Santa School of Excellence” runs training sessions every day, price £99 per person, for a week in October at its headquarters in Rugby, Warwickshire and issues attendance certificates detailing the topics which have been taught. During the 6 years they’ve been hiring out their graduates to leading companies across the UK they’ve acquired (so they declare) “a vast amount of knowledge on what makes a great Father Christmas”.

There’s even an “International University of Santa Claus” (IUSC),based in Houston,Texas,USA. The IUSC claims that over the past eight years more than 3,500 Santas and Mrs Claus have enrolled at its Schools. It awards five different categories of diplomas in Santaclausology: Associate, Bachelor, Master, Advanced Master, and Doctorate (PhD).

To qualify for a PhD, candidates must have already passed the fourth stage, accumulated at least five years’ experience as Santa and then, as the final step, are required to submit a 20 – 30 minute dissertation to the selection committee.

Featuring among the possible topics suggested for the presentation are: “The basics of being Santa”, “The Correct Posture & Facial Features”, “The Do’s and Don’ts of Sitting in the Chair”, “Answering Those Who Don’t Believe in Santa or Christmas”, “Santa as a Business” and “How to Market Yourself”. Successful candidates are then bestowed with their Phd Diploma at an IUSC graduation ceremony and are entitled to attend the university’s future courses free of charge.

The Ministry of Fun’s Santa School opens its doors for its 18th annual training day. Potential Santas are put through their paces, with classes in general jolliness, reindeer name memorisation and learning “Merry Christmas” in 15 languages.

Many of the Santas currently working in grottos across the UK, may be feeling – irrespective of whether they have diplomas, experience or training – that their remuneration should and could be a little higher. That’s because, as has recently been highlighted by the British media, the expenditure for parents who want to take their children to see Father Christmas is more than double than what it was three years ago.

According to an analysis conducted by the Sunday Times and cited on 17th November by two of its journalists, Shanti Das and Tom Calver, the average charge has jumped from £9.39 in 2016 to £12.63 now, which represents a 35% rise.

In several places, the increase has been much higher: At the Royal Albert Hall, a ticket for an hour-long event with Father Christmas, music and puppets now costs £39.24, up from £26.50 in 2016. The biggest increase, noted Das and Calver, has been for the “Winterland Grotto” at Dreamland in Margate, Kent, from £9.95 to £27.95. The founder of the Mumset forum, Justine Roberts, told the Sunday Times that parents resented having to pay so much for attractions often consisting of “grotty grottoes and sullen Santas wearing ill-fitting beards”.

The fiercest criticism has been directed at the decision by Harrods in Knightsbridge to restrict access to its Father Christmas to customers who have spent at least £2,000 in the shop. As the Guardian columnist, Robert Neale, pointed out on 9th November, although the Qatari royal family – the owners of the store, which made a £171 million profit last year – have now agreed to allow 160 less well-off families the chance to visit the grotto, the wealthiest ones will still monopolise 96.4% of Father Christmas’s time at Harrods.

Filed under: Society | Posted on December 2nd, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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