A popular Penticton mall Santa says he’s been sent back to the North Pole after off-colour photos of him were brought to his employer’s attention.
Gary Haupt, who’s been impersonating Santa Claus in various communities since 1995, said he was fired by Cherry Lane Shopping Centre on Wednesday for photos that were taken on his personal time.
“This would have been my second year at the mall,” he said. “This is like a calling for me. It’s not just a four-week gig.”
Cherry Lane Shopping Centre did not respond to multiple requests for comment Thursday.
According to Haupt, photos of him dressed as Santa performing eyebrow-raising acts with fans were brought to the attention of Cherry Lane staff alongside a complaint.
Haupt said those photos – one in which he’s holding his hands over a woman’s chest and another in which he appears to be drinking from a flask – were both taken off mall property and with consent from those in the photos. He added there was never actually any physical contact.
Cherry Lane Shopping Centre staff met with Haupt last year regarding photos taken at the mall showing Haupt pretending to spank, or be spanked, and all parties agreed such photos shouldn’t be done there anymore, he said.
His contract was then renewed for 2019, said Haupt, who turned down another gig in order to commit to the mall.
The hardest part about the experience for him has been knowing he won’t be there for the children.
“This is something I truly believe in,” he said. “I am the one person (a child) can talk to, and I’m always going to listen to them.”
Haupt said being Santa is a year-round commitment for him – especially with his beard being 100% authentic – with children often spotting him in the community and asking if he’s Santa.
“A child will see me in a restaurant, and they’re looking at me, and the next thing you know, they’re asking the question. And I say, ‘Yes I am.’”