As Thanksgiving weekend approaches, the Jolly Old Elf has already been on the job for a few weeks.
A few shopping malls brought in Santa Claus as Halloween was just beginning to wane. For working Santas, what was a quick seasonal gig is turning into a major commitment.
A few years ago, Jim Cummings lost his grandson. As a way to cope with the grief, he surrounded himself with children as a shopping mall Santa Claus.
“Everyone told me the children would be greedy and they would pull my beard and make fun. I didn’t experience any of that,” said Cummings. “The kids were as nice as they could be. They love Santa and are excited to be in his presence. It’s wonderful to know children on a level few adults can.”
Cummings had a 90-minute commute from his home in Pennsauken, New Jersey to the mall in Hoboken. During the last two weeks before Christmas, the work was so exhausting that he lived in a hotel room near the mall. The following year he turned down an offer to be Santa at a mall in Michigan, which would have forced him to relocate away from his family for almost two months.
This year, the Montgomery Mall near Lansdale debuted Santa on November 4. Marketing director Ashley Pompei says people are shopping earlier.
“A lot of stores have pre-black friday sales,” said Pompei. “They try to get people out here to avoid rush of the holiday season.”
Cummings thinks it’s a bit much.
“I never sold myself as a commercial entity and I never actively participated in selling merchandise,” said Cummings. “I kind of feel funny about malls bringing in a Santa that early to push the season that much further ahead. It’s all artificial anyway, but it seems particularly strange to me.”
Although many area malls have had Santa in place for weeks, there are a few holdouts who do not bring him on until Black Friday.