Two years after he was fired from the Penticton mall, this naughty Santa is as busy as ever | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Penticton News

Two years after he was fired from the Penticton mall, this naughty Santa is as busy as ever

Gary Haupt, AKA Santa Claus, likes to do silly poses with willing participants.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Gary Haupt

- This story was originally published Dec. 8, 2021.

Getting fired over spicy photos seemed like a major blow to the career of a shopping mall Santa, but two years later, the Penticton man is not struggling to find work.

“I thought I was finished,” Gary Haupt said.

The two damning photos featured Haupt – while in his Santa suit – pretending to take a swig from a flask, and another where he put his hands close to a woman’s breasts.

This was one of two photos that got Gary Haupt fired from his job as Santa at the mall in Penticton.
This was one of two photos that got Gary Haupt fired from his job as Santa at the mall in Penticton.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Gary Haupt

Some people found it humorous and ironic to see Old St. Nick acting naughty, and that’s why Haupt shared the photos to Facebook. But the definition of ‘naughty’ can be vague.

He says he’s good at reading the room and didn’t feel like any lines were crossed. Everybody involved was on the same page. The handsy photo was snapped by his partner in life. And neither were taken at Cherry Lane Shopping Centre, where he was fired from in 2019.

“I am respectful, sometimes you may question that but it’s true,” he said.

Coming off the heels of the MeToo movement, getting fired over suggestive photos was not a good look.

“There was no conversation with Cherry Lane, it was just: ‘You’re terminated, goodbye,’” he said.

“It quickly became clear to me that this was either going to end my Santa Claus career, which I thought was going to happen. Or I was going to survive it.”

And survive it he did, as the general public was far less offended by the pictures than the mall’s managers.

An email to Cherry Lane was not returned.

READ MORE: Penticton mall Santa fired for 'naughty' photos on Facebook

Haupt says he's as busy as he’s ever been leading up to Christmas. He started booking up dates for December 2021 in July, and said people have already inquired about hiring him for December 2022. His schedule is full of Santa gigs between now and Dec. 21, including several dates at the Beacon & Friends WinterFest and Holiday Market in Kelowna.

Two years ago however, he wasn’t so sure things were going to work out.

“I have a huge debt to the city of Penticton,” he said. “They believed in me as Santa.”

The story garnered significant interest beyond Penticton. The day after Haupt was fired in November 2019, two news crews were at his home. He was interviewed three times by the CBC and a radio station from Las Angeles invited him on as a guest.

While he can no longer be found at the mall in Penticton, Haupt loves that he is continuing his job as Father Christmas. He fits the role year-round – even in plain clothes during the summertime he gets approached by children wondering “are you Santa?”

And he loves interacting with children as Santa. He said rainbow unicorn toys are always popular with youngsters, and he pretends to get confused to see how kids will react when he offers them a living rainbow unicorn for Christmas.

“I have some real ones but you need a big bathtub,” he'll say. “Oh a toy? I thought you meant a real one.”

When kids ask for an item that might be too dangerous or expensive for their family to consider buying, he knows not to give any assurances.

“I try to say I need to talk to mom and dad first.” 

The toughest part of his job is responding to impossible requests, like a boy who wanted Santa to save his dying father, or children who think he has the power to mend a broken home.

“They’re looking to Santa to fix this. Those are the hard ones.”

Haupt discovered his passion for the job in the 1980s while working as a bus driver in Vancouver. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, he would operate the bus in his “west coast Santa suit,” which includes red Reebok runners, red Nike shorts, a hat and a t shirt with his name on it.

When he started being Santa in shopping malls and community events, he “wanted to be the best Santa they’ve ever seen.”

READ MORE: Penticton Santa is a sudden celebrity after being fired from mall for private photos

Haupt loves accommodating silly requests. Whether he’s holding children upside down by the ankles, pretending to spank those who have been naughty, or posing with a dog that had to be smuggled indoors – he tries to make every portrait as good as it can be.

Last year, during a pet-sanctioned event, he had to overcome his phobia of snakes for one memorable photo, though he admits he was not happy about posing with a serpent.

“We got through that, but my first words were not Santa words.”

He was also a little tense the first time a baby on his lap wouldn’t stop crying hysterically, but he quickly came to realize that “99% of parents” are happy to get a photo of their baby crying on Santa’s lap.

“It’s kind of like a rite of passage.”

Penticton's Cherry Lane mall Santa lost his job in 2019 after mall administration was informed of these photos of mall Santa Gary Haupt during his off time.
Penticton's Cherry Lane mall Santa lost his job in 2019 after mall administration was informed of these photos of mall Santa Gary Haupt during his off time.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED / Gary Haupt Facebook page

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dan Walton or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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