Lean times: Rio Santas line up for nourishing gifts. For themselves

Carlos Fabal, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 22 2022 09:08 AM | Updated as of Dec 22 2022 09:17 AM

A group of professional Santa Claus carry Christmas food baskets they received during a charity event organized by Brazil's School of Santa Claus and a food distribution company, at the Estacio de Sa Samba School barrack in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on December 20, 2022. The donation of Christmas baskets to professional Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus started during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to aid this working class, severely hit during that time. MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP
A group of professional Santa Claus carry Christmas food baskets they received during a charity event organized by Brazil's School of Santa Claus and a food distribution company, at the Estacio de Sa Samba School barrack in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on December 20, 2022. The donation of Christmas baskets to professional Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus started during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to aid this working class, severely hit during that time. MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Better known for giving than receiving, Rio de Janeiro's Santas have been lining up for gifts for themselves: food parcels to help them through pandemic lean times. 

Santas in the Brazilian city have recently had to tighten their belts as work, limited as it is to a few weeks a year, dried up.

During the Covid-19 crisis, the Santas "found themselves out of work" as year-end events were canceled, explained Limachem Cherem, director of the Rio Santa Claus School.

The school teaches dozens of professional Santa Clauses to sing, act and otherwise best embody the jolly, ruddy-cheeked, bearded man from the North Pole.

They are then hired by shopping centers, hospitals or creches to dole out gifts to children.

In 2020 and 2021 there were few such events due to the pandemic that caused nearly 700,000 deaths in Brazil.

In those difficult years, "we got only five of the 30 usual contracts, and those (Santas) who did work could only greet the children through a window. It was very sad," said Cherem, whose school has trained nearly a thousand Santas in three decades.

There are more events this year, but the Santas -- many of them retired old men -- have lost out on two years of income that they are struggling to make up.

So the school decided to hand out sponsored food parcels to lighten the load.

Among the grateful receivers was Paulo Roberto Santos, 63-year-old Santa with a bushy gray beard.

"I see it as recognition of the work that Santa does in bringing joy to the children but also to adults," he told AFP while accepting a food parcel on Tuesday. 

Added Santa colleague Sergio Lins, 71: "It's good to receive, it's good to give, I really appreciate this basket."

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© Agence France-Presse

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