Where Are You Christmas? (The Year I Swore Off Mall Santas)

During this holiday madness, many of us drag our children to visit Santa at the mall.  This year, I’ve decided to eliminate this task from my list of Christmas chores and I also omitted it from our Advent calendar activities.

With joyful fondness, I remember my childhood years sitting on Santa’s lap while my mom photographed us.  Years later, my sister and I would giggle over our toothless grins, obnoxious hair-dos and outlandish fashion statements.  Pictures with Santa are truly a happy childhood memory for me and something I wanted to recreate for my children.  However, over the years, I have grown such a strong distaste for our local mall Santas.

During my motherhood years, I shuffled my children off to the mall dressed in holiday attire to sit on Santa’s lap.  I would start snapping photos only to be told to refrain from taking pictures by an angry Santa helper.  Despite an angry elf hollering at me, I continued snapping pictures.

Then, last year’s experience ended our annual visit to Santa.  After another scuffle with an angry elf, I discovered an uncooperative Santa had photobombed my pictures by not looking at the camera.  Thanks for your fine example of the Christmas spirit, Santa.

Christmas 2007

After our disappointing Santa experience last Christmas, I had an a-ha moment and drew a line in the sand.  The Santa spot is simply another kiosk in the mall trying to sell you something, which is no different from the perfume kiosk or the beautiful hands kiosk.  The mall Santa is a cleverly crafted marketing scheme by the shopping mall Scrooges and photography studios to squeeze money from consumers.  As a result, we spend year after year getting sucked into the holiday madness with must-have Christmas toys, jolly Christmas merchandise disguised as a spontaneous new traditions (such as the latest hideous craze, the Elf on a Shelf) and photographs with Santa as to not miss out on any of the holiday version of keeping up with the Joneses.

Growing up as a child, the department stores offered Santa as a service to the community.  Of course, it was a way to draw customers, but a visit with Santa was free and you could take as many pictures as you wanted without an angry elf or shop owner telling you otherwise.

A few years ago, on our visit to the U.K., we stumbled upon a department store Father Christmas, who happily chatted with Allana.  He graciously smiled and posed for photos.  After our chance encounter, he gave Allana a book as a gift.  No purchase was necessary to enjoy a visit with Father Christmas or the book.

Father Christmas at Jenners – Christmas 2004

Nowadays in the U.S., everything is about ways to get people to spend money.  The cheapest portrait with Santa is approximately $16.  Why should anyone be forced oreven coerced into buying a photo of their child crying in Santa’s lap which will only be shoved into a pile with other tacky and useless portraits, like school portraits?  (At least school portraits are a fundraiser for the schools.)  If I choose to snap my own Santa photos, it costs the portrait studio nothing to hit the delete button.

The new mall that opened in our area, The Shops at Wiregrass, is hosting an hourly Christmas light show each night until Christmas.  The Symphony in Lights is choreographed to the music of Trans Siberian Orchestra and this free show is a spectacular sight.

Hiding behind the gigantic, twlinking Christmas trees is the Santa kiosk with a very short line and a sign that states, Please refrain from using your personal photographic equipment”.

How can this mall justify the expense for an extravagant light show, which included paying the rights to use the music of Trans Siberian Orchestra and the astronomical electricity bill of said show, but can not budget the cost to hire their own Santa as a service to the community?

When visiting Walt Disney World or Universal Studios, a cast member will gladly snap a picture of your family if asked.  There’s no guilt or shame involved and certainly no high pressure sales pitch to purchase a portrait before you leave the theme park.

Grinchmas 2003

Every mall in our area is owned by a number of large corporations and could easily afford to hire their own Santa or fleet of Santas to work throughout the holiday season.  The malls could allow parents to take their own photographs, but also offer portrait packages as an additional service without the high-pressure sales pitch from an angry elf.  Perhaps, the elves could even offer to take pictures, like a Disney or Universal cast member.

In my perfect little Santa Workshop, a sign would suggest monetary donations for a local homeless shelter.  No purchase would be necessary to visit with Santa and the Santa helpers would happily offer to take family snapshots with your personal photographic equipment.  If you choose to buy a portrait, then a portion of each portrait sale would be donated to a local homeless shelter.  Near the Santa Workshop, visitors would find a toy collection box for needy children and another collection box for a local food bank.

In this scenario, the true spirit of Christmas would be evident.  Feeling the Christmas spirit, visitors, like me, would be more incline to give a $20 donation to feed and clothe the homeless rather than buy a useless portrait of their children.  It would be a green,charitable Christmas for me, saving the fate of a few trees from becoming printing paper while giving more green to those in need.

Why during these trying times are we seeing more Grinches and Scrooges when more families feel like Bob Cratchit?

With a looming recession, an increasing number of people out of work and many families losing their homes, homeless shelters are being flooded with families and hitting a record high this year. I had hoped that our local malls and department stores would have a change of heart this season.  I know I have had a change of heart by refusing to take part in the mall Santa experience.

More families cutting back on frivolous spending could explain the shorter line to visit with Santa.  Or perhaps, more people, like me, are choosing to remember the true spirit of Christmas.  Hopefully, the mall Scrooges will remember their Christmas pasts and the Grinches of the corporate world will stop trying to steal Christmas.

Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t the malls find you?


  1. Erika says:

    D – You crack me up. I know your dislike of Santa’s in the mall. For me though, I will gladly pay the $16 to have that photo.. oone of the only things that I can count on that will get done every year. I have all of the Santa pics that my mom had done when I was a kid (and she purchased the package, did not take them with her own camera). I don’t see any difference between the mall Santa and those cheesy rides you have to put your quarter in.. It’s entertainment and I guess it is worth $16 to me to see the excitement on her face to sit on his lap. Besides.. It is $75 to get your pic taken with Cinderella. Love you girl!

    • denisermt says:

      @Erika- I don’t pay for Princess pics, either. The WDW Cast members will take the pic for you. I’ll pay for breakfast with the princesses, though. I gotta eat, right?

      @becelisa- I totally forgot about Wild Wonderland at Lowry. What a great idea! We went years ago when Allana was about a year old. The real reindeer were cool. Hmmmmm…Maybe I’ll move some things around in the advent calendar.

  2. becelisa says:

    i refuse to take my daughter to the mall to see santa. we go to lowry park zoo’s wild wonderland every year. yes, it costs to get in but the event itself is well worth the ticket price. the line to see santa is never long and you are encouraged to take as many of your own pictures as you want. and santa actually takes time to talk to every child. heck, last year even i sat on his lap and gave him my wish list. and though i will admit brad pitt was not in my stocking christmas morning i will say it’s well worth it.

  3. Erika says:

    LOL – I guess I will complain about paying for the crappy mall santa when the mall starts charging admission!

    I do agree that the Mall santa is a cheese ball with no personality but whatever iti s just one of those things we do. We also take advantage of all the free Santa’s at events we go to.

    Hey you know what Downtown Disney’s Santa charges and you can’t take your own shots…. cause you don’t PAY to get into downtown Disney 🙂

  4. denisermt says:

    @ Erika – GET OUT! They for Santa charge at Downtown Disney?! That’s ridiculous!

    Hey Air! Maybe our MOTG charity next year should be a Santa? I’ve got some Santa connections, ya know.

    And about the pics w/ Santa…you’ve got such a fancy camera and you’re so talented with the scrapbooking stuff that you don’t need their stupid prints. You could do a much better job. LOVE YOU, GIRL!!! xox

  5. ParentingPink says:

    I AGREE! I drag all three girls to the mall only to find that the mall Santa is often grumpy and impatient. He barley speaks to the girls and shifts them on and off his lap like they mean nothing to him (and I’m sure they don’t, but isn’t Santa supposed to “pretend” that he likes kids?).

    When I was little, my parents would drive us to Richmond every year to go see the “real” Santa in the Miller & Rhodes store (now closed). It was so much fun and Santa actually called us by our names (the snow fairy would tell him, but we never knew that)! LOL It was so personable and there was no ‘pressure’ to buy overly priced pictures. Augh, where have the good ol’ days gone?

    Let me know if you find Christmas 🙂

  6. Lisa says:

    Took my kids this Christmas to see Santa (first time) since we’re from HK and visiting my folks in Toronto. Santa turned out to be a grouch. The guys behind the camera suck at taking photos and have no clue how to make children laugh (much less distract them to look at the camera), got crap photos on a disc (for $22.95 CAD) because we didn’t want to buy the photos and figured we should be paying for their efforts. This was at Yorkdale mall as well (one of the better malls in Toronto). Next year? I may just skip over the mall Santas and make my own out of cardboard and have the kids pose infront of it each year. Thanks for the post.

  7. Jen@Happily-Ever-After-Land says:

    When we took my girl last year, they had the audacity to charge different prices for the SAME SIZE sheet of paper, just cut up different ways! What the heck is that all about? And they thought we were SO stupid not to notice, they didn’t even bother cutting out the photos to make them look like more. Just held up the 8×10 paper with the different sized photos on each one. So stupid! It makes me not feel bad to scan them – we’re so OBVIOUSLY being ripped off!

  8. Parri Sontag (Her Royal Thighness) says:

    Thank you for this. You make some awesome points! I, too, would gladly donate a toy or money to receive a free picture with a gracious Santa. And you’re right: with all the money we spend at the holidays, these giant stores could fund a happy Santa and let kids visit for free. Does EVERYTHING need to be monetized? Macy’s in NYC has a Santa’s Village where they do just this … free pictures with Santa that you can take yourself (you can pay for the professional shots, but visiting with Santa in a private “workshop” (several private workshops, actually., with several Santas (the kids have no idea!). We used to go every year with our daughter. It’s a cherished memory!

    • Denise says:

      Oh that sounds FANTASTIC! Macy’s walks the walk when it comes to the giving during the holidays. They are the model to follow. I think I need to organize for a charitable Santa for next year. I have plenty of time to make it happen.

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