It's a tough year to be one of Santa's helpers:
As a longtime Santa Claus at a suburban Chicago mall, Rod Riemersma used to jokingly tell children they would get socks for Christmas if they were naughty.
This year, he stopped telling the joke. Too many children were asking for socks. "They've probably heard their parents say, 'Geez, I wish I had some money to get them clothes,' " says Mr. Riemersma, 56 years old.
A wintry measure of hard times can be found this holiday season on the knee of white-bearded, red-suited men around the country. A couple of years ago, children were shooting for the moon, asking St. Nick for Xboxes, iPods and laptops. But with the economy still fragile, many children are requesting basics such as shoes, library cards and even eyeglasses, say dozens of Santas who work at malls or on the party circuit.
"Kids will hear the E-word, but it's not Elmo," says Tim Connaghan, who runs a Los Angeles Santa-training school. "It's the economy."
It's the economy, Santa! And don't forget to use your hand sanitizer after each session, even if you have had your H1N1 shot.