Keeping the Santa Secret: What effect do Mall Santas have?

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Keeping the Santa Secret: What effect do Mall Santas have?

Miranda Cecil, Staff Writer

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This winter, hundreds of thousands of families across the United States will visit their local mall to stand in line in wait of Santa Claus. Children will sit upon the jolly elf’s lap, whispering their Christmas lists into his ear. However, there is a lot of preparation for each individual child’s experience.

The Santa we are familiar with today comes from Thomas Nast’s 1881 illustration to accompany Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem “‘Twas the Night before Christmas”. However, the idea of Santa is derived from the Christian St. Nicholas, born in 280 AD. Patron saint of children and sailors, St. Nicholas’s feast day is Dec 6. St. Nicholas was thought to perform altruistic acts on his feast day. The Dutch twist on this classic tradition, Sinter Klaas, came to the United States in 1773. In 1804, John Pintard distributed illustrations of a taller, thinner Santa to the New York Historical Society in 1804. The first Salvation Army and department store Santas appeared in the 1890s. The first department store to host Santa Claus was Edgar’s Department Store in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1890.

With more Santa prints sold now than ever before, there are few children who haven’t visited a mall Santa, and few malls that don’t host a mall Santa.

Often children go at a very young age for the first time, and therefore do not understand the experience. Graduation coach Kim Deyton took each of her children to see Santa for the first time when they were each about a year old.

“My kids were just kind of confused about why I sat them on this man’s knee and asked them to smile,” Deyton said.

The second year, Deyton’s eldest was terrified, so he sat in her lap rather than in Santa’s. However, he is excited to visit Santa this year.

“I never took my kids because when I was little, Santa scared me half to death,” math teacher Catherine Brown said.

Brown’s concern is one that “Santa schools” like those in Alberta, Canada and Riverside, California attempt to eradicate. The requirements for Santa School (Calgary, Alberta, Canada) are that the Santas are not allowed to smoke, talk a lot about their paycheck, or be awkward with children. They are taught to walk, laugh, and smell like Santa. Graduates of International University of Santa Claus (Riverside, California) become members of the Red Suit Society, the alumni association of the school. Members of this society are highly valued by agencies that seek mall Santas.

There is tight regulation on with whom the mall figures discuss their jobs; when asked whether they would be available for an interview, both of the Santas in Greensboro said that they would have to clear the interview with a manager, and that the process could take up to two weeks. This is done to ensure the maintenance of the mystery and magic perceived to be surrounding Santa.

Sophomore Cameron Bowers began visiting Santa at age three. She took pictures with Santa, and always enjoyed the experience.

“It’s something magical happening,” sophomore Cameron Bowers said. “I got to meet someone who maybe wasn’t normal.”

Freshman Henry Godiono also began visiting Santa at age three, though he did not have his picture taken. He was neither excited nor upset by the experiences.

“My parents said I didn’t really notice,” Godiono said. “My favorite part was probably sitting on this guy’s lap.”

Senior Katelyn Durham works as an elf at Santa’s Workshop in Friendly Center. The elves are intended to be helpers for Santa, working to make the children smile as their photos are taken, process costs, and generally make the atmosphere that of the imagined Santa’s workshop.

“[My favorite part is] being able to see the little children smile when they walk up to Santa,” Durham said.

Friendly Center opened in 1957, and Santa has visited in some capacity each year since. However, the first year of the stand-alone building in The Shoppes at Friendly was 2013.

In Greensboro, mall Santa pictures can be taken at Four Seasons Mall and at Friendly Center. At Friendly Center, Santa will be available from 10a.m. to 8p.m. every day until Christmas, unless he is on break to feed his reindeer. At Four Seasons, he is available from 9a.m. to 9p.m.


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