A child and a man dressed as Father Christmas in front of a special Christmas post office in the German village of Himmelpfort, November 13, 2006.
Berlin is facing an acute shortage of Santas four weeks from Christmas, the head of a Father Christmasplacementagency said on Monday.
The director of Berlin's "Heinzelmaennchen" agency that acts as anintermediaryfor 5,000 families that order the 20-minute visits from a real live Santa Claus each year on December 24 said he was having trouble getting enough qualified help this year.
"We need at least 300 Santas to meet the demand but we only have about 100 signed up so far," said Rene Heydeck, 40.
"We prefer chubby men, of course, ideally with a real beard but we're not picky and take what we get," he said.
The Santas, many of whom are students, earn 28 euros (19 pounds) for each performance -- bringing in a sack of presents provided outside the door by parents and handing out the gifts. They start at about 3 p.m. and are finished by about 9 p.m.
The 300 Santas visit an average of 10 to 12 families, although some have managed up to 20, Heydeck said. In return, the Santas must buy their costumes for 45 euros and have to pay the agency 15 percent of their earnings.
"If they're quick, they can earn a nice sum," Heydeck said of the men, who range from a student of 20 to a 72-year-old retired professor "with a real beard" now in his 28th season. Children between 2 and 7 "still believe in Santa," he said.
"In a lot of families in Berlin it's a tradition that carries on even after the children grow older and stop believing," Heydeck said. "It's hard work and sometimes you have to run faster if you fall behind schedule. But it's great fun."