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This year, even Santa is in a cash crunch.

The financial picture is so bleak that his shopping mall stand-ins are being told to teach pint-sized admirers about expectations management, the New York Times reports.

Instructors at the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, are advising jolly old elves to tell kids they can't have everything.


Santas at the school, founded in 1937, are getting special instruction on how to size up families' financial situations and gently respond to demands for lavish items such as iPods.

"In the end, Santas have to be sure to never promise anything," said Fred Honerkamp, a seasonal Santa and lecturer at the school, where a record 115 Santas graduated from the three-day course this fall. Mr. Honerkamp said he spins a yarn about a rogue elf and toy production delays at the North Pole to explain why St. Nick may not deliver.

Another Santa, Rick Parris, has a more straightforward tactic for dealing with kids who ask for the world: "I just make sure to let them know that Santa seldom brings everything on a list."

And despite the economic slump, the lists can be long. Some kids hop onto Santa's lap with multiple-page printouts, spread sheets and catalog clippings.

A Daily Mail reader commenting on the Santa story agreed that children should learn to lower their expectations but, he wrote, "it should be taught by their parents. Not by someone they look up to as a hero."

Not all kids are greedy, though. Santas report that in recent years, one of the most poignant – and frequent – wishes has been "Can you bring my parent a job?"

Tom Ruperd, a shopping mall veteran, described in the New York Times how he channels the original St. Nicholas with a spiritual reply. "I usually tell them, 'Santa specializes in toys, but we can always pray on the other.'"

Perhaps there's no harm in a little wishful thinking.

Do you dread visits with Santa? How do you cope with your kids' Christmas wish list?