Sunday, December 23, 2018

Behind the Beard and Face-to-face with Grace

My wife and I have a friend who has worked at a large retail store as an elf for Santa. She told us some great stories about the wide variety of Santas and customers she experienced.

She had nicknamed some of the Santas she encountered. I had heard of "Dirty Santa" before-- one of the names for the gift-giving and gift-stealing game we like to play among adults. But she had met others I had not yet met: Grumpy Santa, Politically Incorrect Santa, Christian Santa, Actor Santa, and Diva Santa.

As a labor economist, I was fascinated to think about their labor market. It's temporary and seasonal work. So, Santas are semi-retired or are using their Santa income to supplement their primary gig. Santas and the stores generally rely on an agency to act as a middleman. But that's common for workers who are temporary or in a specialized market with few service providers.

Of course, it's not efficient for stores to have suits for multiple Santas with their different sizing needs. So part of hiring Santa is hiring (and renting) his uniform. Uniform quality ranges quite a bit, with suits as expensive as $3,000. In case you're curious: she reports that most seemed to sport a natural beard and sufficient girth to play the part well.

Santas often rotate between shifts and stores. For a full day at a retail store, working for the whole day would usually be too taxing. Given that the quality of Santas varies, maybe the agencies find it more useful to rotate them, rather than deal with complaints. In the government's K-12 schools, unable to fire unproductive teachers easily, schools will sometimes "pass the trash", moving poor teachers every few years, before parent complaints reach a climax. I wonder if poor Santas get shuffled around the same way.

But as with most teachers, most Santas are wonderful people who are reasonably effective at their work. In "Behind the Beard: A Santa Claus Journey", Aaron and Amanda Bandy...

As you might imagine, the customers are also a wide mix, from the kind to the mean, from the quirky to the foul, from the grateful to the ungrateful. Some folks want a picture taken with their dog. Others bring babies with wet or dirty diapers. Some were experiencing this as the only Christmas they would have-- because they could not afford anything or because a husband was dogmatically opposed to Christmas in any form.

All of them were receiving a service at no monetary cost. Some are so thankful; others seem to be missing "the reason for the season". Christmas and old St. Nick have their origins in Christ's birth and St. Nicholas's benevolence. In both cases, the historical events are built on grace-- unmerited favor, getting something wonderful that we don't deserve.

Christmas can be a challenging time-- for those who have recently experienced the loss of a loved one, those with few material resources, those away from family, and so on. But ingratitude is never a good way to live. And around Christmas, it is especially ironic and appalling. When you're tempted to moan and complain, here's the best gift to give: count your blessings; help those less fortunate; and embrace the grace behind the history of our celebration.


At December 29, 2018 at 3:01 AM , Blogger Lisa Resnick said...

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