After years of smiling politely for the camera, Penticton’s Santa Claus decided to get a little naughty in a couple recent photos he took – which ended up costing him his job.
Gary Haupt, known to many as the city’s Santa Claus with his cheerful smile and white beard, was supposed to work this Christmas season at Cherry Lane Shopping Centre starting on Nov. 30. However, a complaint about photos he shared on his personal Facebook page has resulted in his termination.
One photo taken in his home shows Santa reaching down to grab VIP Mobile Spa owner Michelle Prystay’s breasts as she is sitting and smiling.
“Michelle is in and out of our house all the time. So she’s there doing the nails, so I go and put my tunic jacket on and come out and Sharon (my partner) grabs the camera and we take a few pictures,” said Haupt, adding the photo was taken in jest.
“Part of this is my naivety because I thought this was really funny, and Michelle and Santa are well-known around town so I put them on Facebook because I thought it was something people weren’t going to get anxious about.”
The second photo depicts Haupt as Santa, leaning back into a woman’s arms as he pretends to take a swig from a metal flask. Haupt said this was taken at the Shatford Centre during a recent Christmas market at the woman’s request.
“She walks up and said she wanted a photo with Santa apparently drinking out of a flask and sort of laying back in her arms,” said Haupt. “So I said sure, I’ll do that. Why would I not? So I thought that was pretty funny and posted that as well. So those are the two pictures that everybody is all wound up about.”
Haupt said someone saw the photos on his profile and sent a complaint to the management of Cherry Lane. He added that he has no qualms with the person who complained, since it’s their right to do so, but he believes the mall should have shown leadership, instead of terminating his contract.
“What I do on my time has nothing to do with (the mall). Somebody took exception to it and spoke to someone with the mall,” said Haupt. “I think from there it went to the owners, and the decision was made to terminate me on Nov. 27.
“I told them that this has nothing to do with you folks. But that didn’t matter. They had received their instructions and that’s what it was.”
Haupt has a long history of playing the part as Santa, both professionally and in his personal life. He said he is now fearful that the other jobs he had lined up this holiday season may follow suit after Cherry Lane’s decision.
“I’m Santa, I’ve been him for years … It’s not just a four-week gig at the mall. Being Santa is a full-time occupation because people make it so,” said Haupt.
“I have children come up to me multiple times a year and ask ‘Are you Santa?’ like I have lived this as my life. It’s one of the things that I do and I’m really good at it. It’s not just put on the suit and become the character.”
When asked if he still stands by the crude photos, Haupt said he absolutely does and that, while social media may have led to him losing his position, it also led to an outpouring of support for him as the beloved Kris Kringle.
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