Scotland is facing a shortage of Santas this Christmas after a lack of new candidates.
The head of the country’s only training school said just one hopeful signed up to become Father Christmas this festive season, when it usually enrols between 15 and 20 each year.
Stuart Thompson launched the academy in Dumfries and Galloway in 2008 after his events entertainment business was hit with snowballing demand for Santa Claus.
But he said the scarcity was heaping pressure on existing Santas and that more willing performers were needed to keep the spirit of Christmas alive.
He told STV News: “There’s a dire shortage and I don’t know why.
“The job may just not appeal to the youngsters, or it’s not a cool thing to do. That’s a worrying aspect.
“We’ve had requests coming in since January and I’ve had to say ‘no’ to customers locally and even down south.
“Though it’s not law, ideally they would have a PVG to work with children, so they’d have to go through that procedure.
“I’ve had one Santa recruited this year and he’s out working now. That’s how bad it is. We’re extremely busy.
“As we all know, Santa can’t be all places at once so his helpers have to represent him. It’s a very demanding but rewarding job.”
Stuart has had his work cut out for him so far this year as Santa, travelling from the Borders through the central belt to the Highlands.
He has invested around £500 in his costume, with handmade hat and clothes and a Yak hair beard costing £225.
He never leaves the house without a pocket mirror to ensure not a single whisker is out of place – and tells all his students to do the same.
But it’s not only about looking the part – budding Santas are put through their paces at the Santa School.
The curriculum covers all bases: the history of Father Christmas, choosing a costume, the code of conduct and of course, elf and safety.
They also deliver a lowdown on the latest toys to keep the Santas up-to-date with children’s ever-changing tastes.
The founder said having properly trained Santas gives businesses peace of mind that their grottos are in good hands.
“For want of a better word, they’re verified,” Stuart said. “We have had some tremendous Santas.
“The ideal Santa has to be attentive, a good listener, patient and kind. They also need to be able to think on their feet, and be able to react to unexpected questions.
“We’ve had children ask for a pet snake for Christmas, or for their parents to get back together. You need to be prepared for that sort of thing.
“Above all, they have to be passionate and truly believe in the ethos and customs of Christmas.”
For many children, meeting Santa and sharing their lists is a cherished experience and Stuart loves being a part of “the most wonderful time of the year”.
“Kids come in crying their eyes out and leave smiling from ear to ear,” he said. “Many come to see me year after year and it’s great to see them growing up.
“It’s a very important part of Christmas. I don’t do it for the money.
“Christmas is about giving, looking out for others, being kind and considerate and bringing families together. The whole tradition is immaterial.
“The parents can’t thank you enough for helping keep the magic of Father Christmas alive.”
With fewer Santas than ever taking up the reins in 2022, Stuart is urging willing candidates to consider giving it a go.
He said: “I’d say to anyone who is a people person to come along and try – I’m sure there’s something you’ll absolutely enjoy. You meet families and become a special part of their Christmas.
“It’s sad thinking kids might miss out due to lack of availability. We need to make more Santa helpers available to take on the important task.
“Visiting Santa is a magical experience which will be etched on their memory for years and years to come.”