One of the creepiest things a small child may ever encounter in the mall—besides a Mall Easter Bunny, or the creepy guy with one tooth working the counter of the ice cream shop—is a Mall Santa. I’ve seen countless innocent toddlers and babies terrified out of their tiny little minds at the mere sight of such a creature. What small child wants to be handed over to a disturbing looking stranger in a cheap red suit, scuffed up boots, a beard made out of cotton balls, and breath that reeks of salami, licorice, and whiskey?
I remember when my son Cameron, who was about six months old at the time, had his very first encounter with a Mall Santa. My husband and my parents also came along for the joyous occasion as they didn’t want to miss out on this rite of passage. After standing in line for about twenty minutes for Cameron’s big chance to see ‘Santa,’ the poor kid became a bit cranky. Crankiness turned into crying, and crying turned into a full-blown conniption fit. My dear, devoted husband and parents all suddenly remembered they had other places to be—and scattered quickly in different directions—which left me and my child alone to face the imposing imposter on our own. Deserters.
Well, I finally got him calmed down—and even happy again—right before our meet and greet with the big fat man in the red pants. At last, we were first in line. “HO-HO-HO! And who have we here?” was all it took. The smile I’d worked so hard to re-establish on Cameron’s face vanished in a millisecond upon hearing those words, and wails of unbridled terror ensued. I held my poor child tightly while he screamed and flailed, tears squirting from his eyes in all directions. At that moment I wanted to just forget the whole thing, get him out of there, and save him from the evil clutches of the way too jolly dude before us. Yet instead, I put my desperate desire of wanting my child’s ‘First Picture with Santa’ above all else, and proceeded to haphazardly hand him over to the man with whisky-tainted breath and a cotton ball beard.
For the next few minutes I, the ‘elves,’ and the imposter himself all tried to appease Cameron to no avail. Cameron reached out his little arms to me, his petrified eyes pleading with me to pick him up and save him, but all I did was stand there and watch. That moment still haunts me to this very day.
Finally, one of the elves got a shot of him while he was screaming, which—if you squint one eye and tilt your head slightly to the left—almost gives the impression of a smile. Then Santa handed him back to me. I felt like I’d sold Cameron out. I paid my $14.99—the price charged for torturing a small child for 2 minutes—and got him the heck away from there. Then out of nowhere, our deserters reappeared.
“How’d it go with Santa?” my husband asked enthusiastically. I narrowed my eyes, peering icily at the people who’d left us in the dust, then I revealed what happened and waited for their reactions. All three of our betrayers laughed their heads off. Jerks.
Anyway, I still have that ‘First Picture with Santa,’ and every time I look at it all I can think about is my decision—in that one split second—where I could’ve either saved my child from something he’d probably need years of therapy for, or hand him over to some drunk guy in a cheap red suit. I chose the latter.
The above is an excerpt from my book Christmas Madness, Mayhem, & Mall Santas: Humorous Insights into the Holiday Season