Many Santas are Now Ho Ho Ho-bese
Adele Saidy, owner of Adele's of Hollywood, has been designing custom Santa suits for St. Nick stand-ins all over the world for more than four decades. She's seen some big changes to the seasonal costumes.
"They are getting larger and larger," she said. "Last year and this year, 25 percent of my Santas - oh, I don't want to say it - they are really overweight."
When Adele started out, the roomiest Santa suit she sold was designed to fit someone who weighed between 200 and 275 pounds with a girth of about 50 inches. Now, she notes, very few of her customers need any extra padding to pull off the fat and jolly look.
The largest size she made this season fits someone who is 300 to 425 pounds and up to a 76 inch girth. She filled six such supersized orders.
Other Santa suit sellers are noticing the same trend.
In 1996, the biggest outfit sold at Santasuits.com was 2X, and sales of oversized suits accounted for just 12 percent of business. Today, the company offers a 4X, and plus-sized outfits are a third of their business. An original 1948 pattern owned by Western Staff Services Company in California has expanded inch by inch until it now accommodates a St. Nick who exceeds 300 pounds and a 50-inch beltline.
Santa Suit Express, based in Loraine, Ohio, doesn't even bother catering to slender Santas anymore.
"We sell thousands of Santa suits a year, and we don't get too many requests for the smaller sizes," noted Aimee Gibson, the company's customer service happiness manager. "Only a few skinnier Santas have called to complain."
Santa Suit Express' smallest size is a 42. The professional, their biggest suit, can be purchased in a size 70, or XXXL.
Outfitting that extra large bowl full of jelly comes at a cost. Saidy said her larger suits go for about $800. Upsizing at Santa Suit Express adds $10 to $20 per size to the price.
"It takes lots and lots of extra fabric and hours and hours of extra work to make the bigger sizes, so the prices are much higher," Saidy said.
Health experts are concerned that if Santa continues on with these "season's growings," he'll no longer be able to squeeze through chimneys - or fit in mall chairs.
Assuming Santas are like most of us, they gain about a pound each holiday season - a pound that sticks with them long after their suits go back into the closet. So a few decades' worth of eggnog and candy canes can result in a pretty significant beltline.
Santas and other individuals who are already obese are the most likely to suffer from accumulated holiday cheer, research shows. One Nutrition Review paper found that about 14 percent of overweight and obese individuals gain five pounds or more during the holiday season.
"Maybe he could get out of his sleigh and walk once in a while or at least do some butt squeezes or calf raises while he's just sitting there to burn off a few extra calories," said registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, Alysa Bajenaru, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
In all seriousness, Bajenaru recommended that anyone trying to keep holiday weight gain under control - including Santa Claus wannabees - should have a plan for keeping up a regular exercise routine and eating their favorite seasonal treats in moderation.
That sort of suggestion may ultimately cut into the Santa suit business - but it's jolly good advice.