Chicago Kevin Scott is a “real bearded Santa.” He commits year-round to wearing red, bleaching his naturally dark brown hair, beard and eyebrows a snowy white, and giving out friendly ho-ho-ho’s to those who recognize him.
Scott became “Santa Kevin” eight years ago, when his stepson told him about the local YMCA’s need for a volunteer Santa. At first he did just two, then four gigs a season. Now he’s booked for about 30 paid and volunteer appearances a year. But due to the recession, some of his fans won’t be seeing him this year.
“I’ve had four jobs canceled because they couldn’t afford it this year,” Scott, of Orange County, Calif., said. “Last year I had one or two that were starting to slow down, but this year really saw the biggest effect.”
“That’s people’s entertainment money, their throw-away money,” Scott said. “If they don’t have that extra money, they take the kids to the mall instead.”
Chicago Santa Mike Petty, who also sports a real beard, said he has noticed Santa’s work week getting shortened, but that even in the Great Recession he isn’t getting pink slips.
“They may only book you for one hour instead of two hours,” Petty said. “But when people start talking about their children and their grandchildren, the sky is kind of the limit.”
In many department stores, though, Santa has a job for life.
“Santa’s a destination in our store,” said Lori Griffith, operating vice president of public relations at Bloomingdale’s. “Our customers know he’s here, and they look forward to seeing him. It’s not a holiday unless we have Santa at Bloomingdale’s.”
Macy’s may have the longest history with Santa. The department store first hired a Santa in 1862, and the 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street” featured Macy’s and its real-bearded employee. Elina Kazan, vice president of media relations for Macy’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, agrees that Santa can count on employment with them for the foreseeable future.
“We were the first department store to have a Santa inside of the store as an attraction,” said Kazan. “You see people from all over the world, of all ages, who visit with Santa. When you say Macy’s in Herald Square, that really is the home of Santa.”
How many Santas are there? While more than one will tell you, as did Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street,” that he is the one and only, there is no official count.
Scott is a board member of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas, a nonprofit organization founded in early 2008 that has about 350 members in the U.S. and Canada. A rival organization, the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas, claims 650 dues-paying members. It started with just 10 Santas in 1994.
Scott said he is “hooked for life” and will continue to volunteer as Santa even without the funding from paid jobs.
“If it came to a point that I wasn’t able to find paying jobs, I’d still do it,” Scott said. “You have to have it in your heart to love children of all races and all sizes. They all need to know that Santa loves them.”