Tags: bloomingdales | santa claus | adults | stress

Bloomingdale's Santa Claus Detects Surge in Stressed-Out Adults

Image: Bloomingdale's Santa Claus Detects Surge in Stressed-Out Adults

Friday, 22 Dec 2017 10:19 AM

Santa Claus was perched on his throne at the Bloomingdale's in midtown Manhattan. It was slow, a weekday before the after-school rush, so he knew what to expect: grown-ups.

"When it's quiet," Santa said, "you get more adults taking selfies."

Sure enough, minutes later a woman walked past the giant FAO Schwartz stuffed animals and caught his eye. "Can I sit on your knee?" Of course. They laughed and smiled wide as an elf snapped their picture.

For Joseph Rembisz, the 71-year-old who is the flagship Bloomingdale's St. Nick five days a week, patrons are pretty much evenly divided between those who might still believe in Santa and those who most surely do not. Having an adult plop down in his lap is an increasingly frequent occurrence, in fact. These days, "the level of wanting to reach out and reconnect to something that made them feel good is very powerful."

And what is it the more mature New Yorker wants for Christmas? World peace. He has fielded the request for years — even from kids — but has noticed a recent surge. Blame North Korea's nuclear-weapons program, the terrorist attacks in Manhattan this year, tax reform, subway glitches, climate change, the stress of the season, any or all of it. Rembisz said his customers are more than ever looking for something that feels safe, and hopeful.

"People are more concerned, more aware. They've seen more things." He said he responds to them in a fashion that acknowledges the fleeting moment of pretense. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could do that," he'll say, "or if everybody felt that way?"

Rembisz has been pulling Santa duty on and off since he was in his 20s, at shopping malls, corporate events, house visits, even in a musical rendition of "Miracle on 34th Street." With his background in the theater and as a voice-over actor, not to mention the fluffy white beard he grows for the job, he makes a convincing St. Nick.

He has seen big changes in duties since he started out. He FaceTimes with family members who can't make it to the store and records videos for far-flung relatives, addressing all by name and reminding them to be good (especially with the technological advances of the 21st Century, he is always watching, after all).

Children don't whisper gift-hopes in his ear anymore. They arrive with visual aids, swiping through images of what they want or showing screen shots of handwritten inventories. Some simply direct him to their Amazon.com wishlists.

"Personally, because I'm old school, I don't like it," he said. Selfies and videos took some getting used to, but now he rather enjoys them. The biggest problem? "People don't have good etiquette — they just shove the phone in your face."

Even when he's not on the clock at Bloomingdale's, he's in demand. People corner him on the subway or dash out of shops, asking for pictures and sometimes more — a house, a happier child. "Husbands are very popular this year," he said, though not up there with world peace.

It can take a toll. "Sometimes it's overwhelming, because you're just a guy in a costume and you're privy to all this."

Born and raised in New Jersey as a Catholic, he grew up with Christmas as the preeminent holiday. His mother loved the season, decorating every inch of the house, inside and out. Now he lives it, and takes it seriously. "We all need that element of make believe or magic or possibility," he said, "because otherwise, how do we survive?"

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Santa Claus was perched on his throne at the Bloomingdale's in midtown Manhattan. It was slow, a weekday before the after-school rush, so he knew what to expect: grown-ups.
bloomingdales, santa claus, adults, stress
Friday, 22 Dec 2017 10:19 AM
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