Last year, I could have sworn I smelled liquor on the breath of a mall Santa. Do they pull these guys off the street?
If an encounter with a St. Nick who’s been dipping into the Christmas cheer is not the kind of memory you’re looking for, you’re not alone: an informal poll suggests smelly and grumpy Santas have tarnished the season for Toronto tykes over the years. How such social rejects manage to make it into the esteemed red and white uniform is a mystery to David Blow, the sales director at Fotonow, a company that supplies Santas to Yorkdale, Fairview Mall, Shoppers World and Bramalea City Centre. In his seven years on the job, he says, the nice Santa experiences have far outweighed the naughty: “Most of our guys have been with us for a long time. They care a lot about their work. The best ones really channel Santa.” Blow has only once been forced to cut a Claus loose, and that was because the man was too shy, not too schlitzed. The Kris Kringle pool (most regulars are 60-something retirees) is pretty tight. “For the past several years, all of our hires have come through referrals,” Blow says. For those considering a jolly career change, candidates must produce a clean police check. A natural beard is a plus (it also increases the pay scale, which ranges from $15 to $50 an hour), though fake whiskers are acceptable. As for Santa’s trademark bowlful-of-jelly belly, in men over 60, an ample paunch and rosy cheeks can indicate health issues, so svelte is fine, as long as you can support two sugar-jacked whipper-snappers on your lap at one time.
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