There were only eight people in the line to see Santa Claus. A few “Dad, pleeeeeze” entreaties from my sons is all it took for me to agree. We could take some time to visit the Mall Santa.
The mall was bustling with people, and despite a few complaints about tired legs, the kids had done a great job weaving in and out of the people with us. The boyfriend and I had popped into a few stores to search for gifts, and the kids had avoided touching tempting displays, keeping hands firmly grasped in mine. I’m always protective of my children in crowds of people, silently terrified at the idea of being separated from them.
The other families in the Santa line struggled to keep their children entertained during the wait. Some kids were dressed up for pictures, little boys in Christmas sweaters, babies in dresses and headbands. Some squirmed, some itched, some ran around in circles, some looked slightly comatose, like their sugar highs had just worn off. There were signs everywhere advertising the price of photos with Santa Claus, which could be sold as singles or packages, in various sizes, in print or electronic. They also reminded patrons that personal cell phones or cameras were not allowed.
The decor was gaudy. Christmas trees, pictures of elves and reindeer, and a candy cane fence around the perimeter. I pictured all of the decor being boxed up at the end of the season, placed in a musty storage room until the following year, where it would be assembled for another season of Santa in the mall. Things felt a lot less magical now that I was a grown-up. But I appreciated the sense of festivity put into the decorations. After all, mall Santas have been a Christmas staple for American families since the 1950s. The world had changed, but mall Santas somehow still reminded us of the roots of our parents in post-WWII America.
The line moved startlingly slow as the “elves” (bored looking workers ranging in height from 5’6” to 6’2”, dressed in red and green and impatient for their next cigarette breaks) tried upselling pictures to the person at the front of the line. It took nearly an hour for the few people in front of us to make it through, but we finally reached the front gate. An elf with a goatee opened the candy cane passage and bid us welcome.
“Would you like to purchase a family photo with Santa Claus?” He didn’t look at me as he asked.
“No thank you. The kids just to visit Santa.”
“Okay, there are no cell phone photos allowed.”
“Yeah, we read the sign.”
Finally past the sentinels, we rushed forward to Santa, who had been sitting quietly for several minutes while the elves negotiated price packages. He sat up in his chair, eager to be involved with children and it was apparent right away that he loved this part of his job. He was a delightful old man, just moderately heavy, in his red and white suit, with a real white beard on his lean face.
“Ho-ho-ho! Who do we have here?”
Both of my sons extended their hands, shaking Santa’s, and gave him their names and ages.
“I’m J, I’m nine.”
“Hi, Santa, I’m A. I’m 6.”
Santa gathered both boys on his lap, one on each knee, and laughed his trademark trio of Ho’s once more. “What handsome boys! And what do you want for Christmas?”
A launched in, ready with his answer. “I want a toy Yveltal!”
Santa’s eyebrows went up, and he looked over at me, a tiny bit helpless. “Oh! An–an Evil-tell?”
“No, Santa, and Yveltal!”
I smiled down at him. “Santa, I know it can be tough to keep up with all of the Pokemon nowadays. There are hundreds! Yveltal is a legendary Pokemon, an red and black flying Pokemon with feathers and claws? Remember Yveltal?”
“Ee-vell-tall! Of course! Ho-ho-ho! I can bring you one of if you are on the nice list!”
A brimmed with pride and excitement. “I am on the nice list!”
Santa turned to my nine year old, smiling. “And what would you like, young man? I can tell you are a great big brother!”
J smiled, a little nervous. “Hi, Santa. In school lately, we have been studying snowy owls. I would like to get a toy snowy owl for Christmas. And maybe some educational books?”
“Ho-ho-ho! I can tell you are a very smart boy. I will bring you those things but I would like you to make me a promise.”
J looked up, curious. “What promise?”
“I want you to promise to invent something wonderful that will make the world a better place, maybe by the time you are 20 years old. Can you do that?”
“Yes, Santa, I can,” he said with full confidence and without hesitation.
Moments later, I was walking way from the mall Santa, passed the bored elves, with my sons’ hands clasped tightly in mine. A was muttering to himself (“Yes! An Yveltal!”) while J was deep in thought. I looked down at I’m, curious.
“Hey, buddy, what are you thinking so hard about?”
“Well, Santa wants me to invent something to make the world better.”
“Yeah, I heard.”
“And Santa loves Christmas.”
“So maybe I should make something to make Christmas better?”
“I think that is a great idea! What are you thinking of inventing?”
J bit his lip while we walked. “I should make something amazing. I think–hey, I know!” He looked up at me, beaming. “I could invent a candy cane machine!”
As we walked out of the mall and into the polluted Salt Lake City winter air, there was still a lack of snow, and my skin itched with all he Christmas commercialism we had just wandered through, but my sons’ hands in mine reminded me what the season was all about.
“Thanks, Santa,” I whispered.