Fact Check

Santa's 'Ho Ho Ho' Changed to 'Ha Ha Ha'

Has Santa's 'Ho Ho Ho' been changed to 'Ha Ha Ha' because women felt insulted by it?

Published Dec 13, 2007

Claim:   Santa's 'Ho Ho Ho' has been changed to 'Ha Ha Ha' in Australia because women felt insulted by the original phrase.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, November 2007]

SYDNEY (AFP) - Santas in Australia's largest city have been told not to use Father Christmas's traditional "ho ho ho" greeting because it may be offensive to women, it was reported Thursday.

Sydney's Santa Clauses have instead been instructed to say "ha ha ha" instead, the Daily Telegraph reported.

One disgruntled Santa told the newspaper a recruitment firm warned him not to use "ho ho ho" because it could frighten children and was too close to "ho", a US slang term for prostitute."

Origins:   In November 2007 a news story emerged out of Australia that left many with the impression that Santas in that country had been issued a prohibition against saying "Ho ho ho!" because that catchphrase had been deemed demeaning to women. Reportings in the U.S. focused on this being yet another instance of political correctness carried too far, yet a more careful reading of the news accounts coming out of Australia showed that Santas-in-training were being advised to alter their greeting for a quite different


While indeed thirty trainees at a Santa course held by a recruitment company had been urged to use "Ha ha ha!" in place of the traditional festive greeting associated with Saint Nick in some cases, the reason for doing so had little to do with associations to an American slang term for prostitutes. Instead, those taking the course were advised that sometimes small children could be inadvertently frightened by a booming "Ho ho ho!" and so come away from the experience of getting to meet Santa more scared than delighted. To keep that from happening, prospective Santas were advised by those running the training sessions to keep their voices down around nervous tots.

A Westaff, the training company that had proffered the advice to its trainees, issued the following statement regarding the hornet's nest of opinion it had stirred up:

Westaff Santa- Ho-Ho-Ho Statement and FAQ

Santa Statement from the Company

Westaff does not 'ha, ha, ha' at Santas saying 'ho, ho, ho.' We take our responsibility to provide friendly, caring Santas to our clients seriously. One of the main reasons Westaff Santas have been putting smiles on children’s faces for more than 40 years is that each Santa is trained to be sensitive to a child’s needs. Training includes a discussion of how to help a child feel more comfortable when visiting Santa. Among the advice we give our Santas to ease children’s fears is to lower their tone of voice. This advice is merely a guideline and each Santa is asked to assess children’s reactions and act accordingly, including saying 'ho, ho, ho'.

Santa FAQ

  • 1. Are Westaff-recruited Santas being told not to say "ho, ho, ho"?
    Absolutely not. In Australia, Westaff Santas are encouraged to assess a child’s reaction and act accordingly — this may include using various tactics for relieving children’s fears like adjusting their tone of voice.
  • 2. What were the exact directions given to Santas regarding saying "ha, ha, ha"?
    Westaff-trained Santas were directed to simply be sensitive to children’s needs. If a child appears frightened, they were directed to try different tactics such as "toning down" their voice or joking with the child to make them feel more comfortable.
  • 3. How many Santas were instructed not to say "ho, ho, ho"?
    None. Westaff of Australia hires and trains more than 500-600 Santas for such retail giants as David Jones Department Stores. In an effort to make every child’s experience with Santa fun and memorable, Westaff Santas go through training where they learn how to greet children. "Ho, ho, ho" is still permitted language for Westaff Santas.
  • 4. Who developed and approved the guidelines?
    While Westaff develops the training for Santas, it is based on their clients’ direction. Westaff clients like David Jones totally approve of Westaff’s training program for their Santas.
  • 5. Whose decision was it to eliminate "ho, ho, ho"?
    Westaff did not eliminate "ho, ho, ho," rather they provided guidance for Santas on other friendly greetings when dealing with a child that might be uncomfortable. We want every child’s experience with Santa to be fun and memorable.
  • 6. Was this a client request?
    No. Westaff simply was trying to guide their Santas on being sensitive to children’s reactions.
  • 7. What about offending women? Was that a factor in instructing Santas not to use "ho, ho, ho"?
    Westaff Santas were not instructed to eliminate "ho, ho, ho" from their greetings. Westaff Santas were simply provided with ideas on how to be sensitive to children, especially those who may appear uncomfortable by Santa.

In December 2007 another news story emerging from Australia at first blush appeared to add credence to the "Santas barred from saying 'Ho ho ho!'" tale. But once again, more careful reading of the news item showed that there was more to the matter than merely the sensationalistic headlines slapped onto the piece.

A 70-year-old man named John Oakes, who worked as a Santa in an Australian department store, asserted he had been fired for saying "Ho ho ho!" and singing Christmas songs to children. His claim was disputed, however, by Westaff, who said Oakes had been dismissed because of his poor attitude toward the job and not for his ho ho ho-ing.

Santas in Australia continue to "Ho ho ho," which works to undermine the claim that they're being fired for sticking to the traditional greeting.

Barbara "tough row to ho" Mikkelson

Last updated:   11 December 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Castello, Renato.   "Slur on Women, So Now it's 'Ha, Ha, Ha';
Santa Heave-Ho."

    [South Australia] Sunday Mail.   11 November 2007   (p. 3).

    Fife-Yeomans.   "Santas Say 'Ho' to Political Correctness."

    The Daily Telegraph.   15 November 2007   (p. 3).

    "Laughing Santa Gets the Old Heave Ho Ho Ho."

    Reuters.   5 December 2007.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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