RALEIGH, N.C. — A job for their mom or dad. Money for the heating bill. Food or a place to live. Maybe gloves or boots.
More and more, Santas say the children on their laps are asking for less for themselves — and Santa is promising less, as well.
"These children understand the conditions around the home when they ask for stuff," said Richard Holden, a 69-year-old Santa from Gastonia, N.C. "They understand when there are other children in the family, they need to be cautious or thoughtful of them as well and not ask for 10 to 12 items."
Cliff Snider, 64, who's been playing Santa since he was a teenager, agrees.
"I think the parents are saying, 'It's an economic thing. Just list two to three things you really want to have,' " he said. "Parents are trying to encourage the children to be thrifty."
And Snider does his best to help out. When he gets a big-ticket request, he typically responds: "There's an awful lot of children asking for that this year. What else do you want?"
At the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School, Santas learn lines like, "Wow, that's a big gift. Is there anything else you might like?"
These days, though, Santas are having to use it less and less.
"I think it's becoming more popular not to have that long list," said Tom Valent, dean of the Santa school in Midland, Mich., which gets more than 3,000 letters to Santa a year and just graduated its 75th class. "Families are teaching their children to be as much of a giver as a receiver."
Of course, Santas still see some kids like the 9-year-old who pulled out a BlackBerry and showed Snider photos of all the things he wanted. "It cracked me up," he said.
Holden's response to a long list is to say something like, "Why don't you narrow this down just a little bit and choose two or three items you would really like?" Sometimes he'll even mention prices, and say, "With things like they are, Santa Claus will do what he can to help you get what you like. But we can't make you any promises."
Holden has had children ask for things like heat at home. He'll tell the child Santa will do what he can, then try to let the parents know about agencies that might help.
One child returned a year later and "said she wanted to thank Santa for getting her some help when they didn't have food or a place to stay." Someone had overheard the conversation with Santa and helped the family.