In an ideal world, a child could sit on Santa's lap at Christmas and ask for whatever gift would make her dreams come true. And Santa could promise it. And — provided the child was nice and not naughty —she could expect to see that gift under her tree on Christmas morning.


But it's not an ideal world. For most, it's not even close. In today's troubled economy, many parents are struggling to put up a Christmas tree, let alone make sure that there are gifts underneath it on Christmas morning. And that means that even Santa needs to watch what he says to the boys and girls who line up to see him at shopping malls and food courts across the nation.


Gary Casey, founder and owner of the Santa Claus Academy in Atlanta, has has trained more than 5,000 Santas over the years, advising them to never promise a toy. Even if it seems like an inexpensive trinket, it could be simply out of range for families who must choose between food and toys for the holiday season. And even parents who aren't struggling appreciate a cautious Santa as toy requests have escalated from baby dolls and toy trains to XBoxes and iPhones.  


Santa can still be jolly. He can still say "Ho, Ho, Ho," and he can still have a mischievous twinkle in his eye. But he can no longer tell children that all they need to do to get toys on Christmas is to stay on his "nice" list — because even the nicest children will go without presents this year. 


It sure is a sad sign of the times.

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