Sunday, November 28, 2010
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.
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.