Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Real Santa

Last week's newspaper came with an unusual sticker affixed to it. It advertised a local mall's "Fast Pass" to Santa. Apparently parents can now go to a website, purchase a photo package and then print out a Fast Pass which enables them to "bypass the regular line and hop onto our faster VIP line" to visit Santa.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

I can't help but feel that this reduces a child's visit to the Jolly Old Elf to just another consumer transaction. Americans today (and I think it's mostly Americans) are so used to instant gratification that they can't even teach their kids how to wait 10 or 15 minutes for something. They miss the opportunity to stand in a short line and talk about what they're going to say to Santa, watch all the other little kids climb on his lap, and generally savor the anticipation of meeting the big man himself.

The Fast Pass, right down to its Disney-fied name, promotes the notion that a child's visit to Kris Kringle is just another item to be crossed off on the huge December To-Do list. It creates an image of harried parents corralling their offspring in the minivan and racing to the mall to get there at the appointed time for a meet-and-greet with Santa, before hurrying through the rest of the mall to pick up the "Must-Have" gifts, without which retailers tell them no holiday is complete.

The Fast Pass creates no memories, no enchanted feelings of the season of anticipation. There is no opportunity for a serendipitous encounter with something magical. In a Fast Pass experience, my family never would have realized we met the Real Santa.

I'll explain.

For us, the Christmas season always included a trip to see Santa on my son's birthday, which falls in December. We'd venture out to King of Prussia, home of the East Coast's largest shopping mall, because it always had a wonderful Santa and beautiful displays. Santa had a real white beard and white hair, with a luxurious plush red outfit. He'd always take his time with the little ones, and parents could bring their own cameras to take photos with Santa. We have photos of him over a seven year span.

One year we wandered up to Santa's chair just as he was leaving "to feed his reindeer." Santa told my son that he would be back in an hour to talk to him. "That's fine," I said," Today is Ryan's birthday so we'll go out to dinner and then come back to see you." And off we went, with Ryan still clutching his handwritten wish list.

An hour or so later we joined the short line to see Kris Kringle. When it was time for our son to climb up on his lap, Santa called out, without skipping a beat, "Come on up, Ryan, and tell me what you want for Christmas!"

My husband and I looked at each other - "he's the real Santa!" I mouthed. We were so surprised that we forgot to remind Ryan to bring back his Christmas list when he was finished his visit. Not to worry, the real Santa managed to surreptitiously pass it to my husband before we left. (Just in case he wasn't, you know, the real Santa.) That memory of Santa calling Ryan by name is one we recall year after year, always with a smile. No Fast Pass necessary.


  1. As with last year's "Do You Hear What I Hear?" you've ushered in the Christmas season with a great commentary on one of the many ways in which this holiday has gone off the rails. Thanks for reminding us what there is to treasure in this desperately over-commercialized holiday season.

  2. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus! WOS, you have beautifully brought back to life the joy of seeing the children transfixed in the presence of Jolly Old St. Nick. Heartwarming post. Thank you.

  3. Yes indeed the spirit of Christmas lives Virginia.
    Sadly here in Oz children no longer sit on Santa's knee,he can't pat them on the head and his white gloved hands must be visible at all times.The attending elve's job is to tell him when they're not.But somehow for children it still has the magice and long may it remain.

  4. I love the photos - are those your own? Great memories indeed.

    I must say that the desire for instant gratification must surely be a worldwide phenomenon by now - or at least in the comparatively wealthy parts of this global village of ours.

  5. Kris Kringle? What on earth is that?

    And a Fast Pass to see Santa, like you said, where's the magic in that.

    Actually, I dislike the whole Santa business too, I'd much rather have a St Nikolaus bring me presents on the 5th December bu coming down the chimney.

    Christmas Day and waking up to the tree and a few (very few) presents was the real magic. (Whether you are a Christian or not, it always works beautifully)

  6. @Von - I suppose those guidelines are a sign of the times, and now that I think about it, I am surprised more Santas are "restricted" in those ways.

    @Carol-Ann- yes, those are my kddies, a few years back. Alas, we no longer visit the jolly old elf, which is fine because the Real Santa was pink-slipped by Cherry Hill Photo, who initiated the Fast Pass system.

    @Friko - I guess I assumed Kris Kringle was as widely known a nickname as Father Christmas or Santa Claus or Sinter Klaus. Perhaps that name is an Americanism - I will have to Google and report back!

    And a happy Hanukkah to those celebrating today - may your holiday be safe from "going off the rails" and being commercialized the way Christmas has been.

  7. It's evidence of the microwave mentality showing itself again, this Fast Pass nonsense. Zap! It's done! Wait a minute. Isn't that what Santa is supposed to do? Bring gifts to good boys and girls at lightning speed? Seriously, though, you're right about the notion of Christmas being more pushy than ever. It has lost the meaning of holiday. I start feeling nauseous around this time of year, and it's not just because I ate too much turkey and dressing last week.

  8. Dear Raining Acorns,
    your meeting of 'the real Santa' is beautiful and shows that to give children an "Instant Santa" is really weird!
    When I was a child, we had to put our wish list into the (well-polished) shoe you put out for Nikolaus-Day. It disappeared mysteriously... (and it wasn't that long as they are nowadays :-)
    Our son saw 'the real Santa' once - a dark Santa-shade in our street, far away, it disappeared - and Lennart was thrilled. I love myths and fairy tales given to a child - and that takes time, not only a hasty moment - as reading and singing and painting does - but it is so rewarding! I wish you a contemplative Christmas time! Britta


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