- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2008

Joe Jackson has been asked to get Daddy a job or Mommy money to buy the house back.

“You see things behind the beard that nobody else will ever see or hear. I’ve had children just literally tear my heart out,” said Mr. Jackson, who is pulling on his red suit for a 19th season of playing Santa at private parties and festivals in the northern part of the state.

The slumping economy has families across the nation facing one of their toughest Christmases in years. That means Nintendo Wii or Elmo Live.

“Children are very trusting of Santa. They are very open with him. They tell him things they normally wouldn’t discuss with other people. And they usually ask Santa to fix things. They know he is someone who can grant wishes,” said Calif., who has played Santa for 40 years and trained more than 1,500 other Santas across the country through his “School 4 Santas.”

He coaches aspiring Kris Kringles to remember that a good Santa can’t promise a new job or money to make everyone’s Christmas dreams come true, “but he can tell them things are always going to get better,” Mr. Connaghan said.

It’s not just children who can use some of Santa’s optimism. A Gallup poll earlier this month found consumers are going to spend $150 less this Christmas than last year. The $616 per person was the lowest amount since the research company began asking the question a decade ago.

At Columbia Place Mall in South Carolina, retailers are trying to fight the trend by handing out thousands of coupon books. But the mall’s Santa, sitting in his plush chair waiting for the occasional child before the holiday weekend, noticed fewer people making purchases.

Hannah Montana bubbles and balloons, Mrs. Mansfield said Christmas will be tough because she’s been looking for work for nine months.

“I’m going to try to get her what she wants, some way, somehow,” the 30-year-old said. “I just hope some money comes in soon. I haven’t got her anything yet. I hope someone calls soon.”

Meanwhile, Mahoganie chatted with Santa, nodding as she explained that, yes, she ate all her vegetables, cleaned up after herself and was always nice to her mother.

“It’s nice to see her up there with him,” Mrs. Mansfield said. “She has no idea what I’m going through.”

Santa is getting some heart-wrenching letters at the Lafayette, La., volunteers for Operation Santa Claus, answering about 250 letters a year from children in her area.

“They’re not asking for a Wii or an Xbox. They’re asking for personal-care items, they’re asking for school supplies, they’re asking for warm clothing,” Mrs. Griffitts said.

Mr. Connaghan said Santas always want children to leave their laps happier than when they came.

“Children tend to take on a lot of their parents’ worries. They don’t always understand what those worries are, and sometimes they will embellish them,” he said. “All Santas can hope is to say a few words that are going to be optimistic and give children a feeling everything is going to get better.”

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