• Mon, Dec 23 - 3:00 pm ET

Mall Santas Helped To Refine My Creep-O-Meter As A Child

creepy-mall-santaI’m not a parent, but I was recently parented and I have a ton of questions about the whole raising children thing. Here’s my most seasonal question: why does our culture tolerate and encourage the photographing of our smallest countrymen sitting on the lap of a stranger dressed in a costume? You all realize that’s not really, Santa, right? Regardless of our cultural attachment to St. Nick as an adorable, gift giving Arctic dweller, that’s not him. That’s some dude named Franklin who’s hiding bottles of supermarket cooking wine in his fake beard.

I’ve been suspicious of mall Santas since I was a child, possibly because my lifelong anxiety gave me an especially refined creep-o-meter. Everyone was an enemy, and any interaction was an opportunity for molestation and abduction. You should have seen me as a seven-year-old at Disneyland, accusing everyone of “being in violation of their parole.” I was an absolute joy.

Mall Santas only served to further refine my already finely tuned creep-meter, which I employed to tell my parents I was not comfortable around our across-the-street neighbor, who was later arrested! Mall Santas were a yearly exposure to creepers, and set my alarm bells off before I was old enough to know what those alarm bells meant. It’s a sense my parents were happy I was born with, because it instinctively told me to run the other direction.

As a toddler, my parents tried to go the mall Santa route, but I patently wasn’t having it. I threw a full blown fit only to calm down as soon as my parents relented and said I didn’t have to sit on that drunken stranger’s lap. It’s like I just knew. Something is not right here. I recoiled in terror at the lap-sitting. The idea of an adult in costume terrified me. Everything about it seemed wrong. I wasn’t the only perceptive child–whenever I see lines of families with children, I see about and even split of children wide eyed with excitement and wide eyed with terror, clearly being dragged by their parents. I love Santa as much as the rest of you, but why was it so important to get this picture? Every other photo involved a crying child.

You can reach this post's author, Julia Sonenshein, on twitter.
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  • elegantapple

    If santa was a Victoria’s Secret model wearing skimpy, trashy outfits, would you have called her a creep who might molest people’s children? No. I guess sexism against men is ok.

    The only reason why you used the word “creep” in the title is because the santa is a man. I mean, the costume is stupid, so I agree on that. Women can be creeps, too. Women want people to stop “slut-shaming,” yet it’s ok to call men “creeps.” What do you want?

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      The only person saying that women can’t be creeps is you.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      To be fair, “astronomically neurotic” would be a much more accurate descriptor for me as a child, but you didn’t know me so that’s not your fault.

    • CreepyAngel

      Yes, if someone, anyone for that matter wanted to take pictures with kids on their lap while wearing underwear they would be characterized as creepy!

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

      …Who wants their kids sitting on a scantily clad stranger’s lap? That’s probably the only thing worst than kids on a stranger’s lap period, short of a stranger with a visible erection.

    • brebay

      Yes, there are female sexual predators. The VAST majority, however, are male, and the vast majority of females ones are working in concert with a male. This is not sexism, it’s just doing the same thing insurance companies do with actuary tables; managing risk. Is every 16-year-old boy an awful driver? No, but enough are that their insurance is higher, this is not sexism or ageism, it’s math; it’s risk management. If my child was separated from me in a public place and had no option but to approach a stranger, I would want him to approach a female rather than a male. Yes, the female could be a predator, but they’re ALL strangers, all you can do is mitigate the risk, and people need to stop equating risk management with sexism, because a few “he or she” in a sentence gets awfully tedious. If I’m talking about a nurse, I’ll probably say “she.” Not because a man can’t be a nurse, but because the majority are female, and I will probably continue to use “he” when referring to sex offenders, not because I think women can’t be sex offenders, but because the majority are male.

    • robin

      And the vast majority of males are not creeps, and the vast majority of pedophiles aren’t strangers.

    • brebay

      Both true, both obvious. I was responding to a specific statement.

    • elegantapple

      That is very true. Couldn’t have said it better.

    • elegantapple

      It’s still not right to assume disgusting things about people you don’t know. I don’t think it’s right to call a guy that you don’t know a “creep.” Would you like to be called a stripper if your skirt happens to be a little too short one day? No. People have the right to be cautious, but it’s not right to jump to the conclusion that a man is a creep.

    • brebay

      I don’t care about being “fair” to a stranger more than I care about protecting my own kid.

    • elegantapple

      I know that women face sexism a little more than men, but that still doesn’t make sexism AGAINST MEN right!

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

      A little more?

    • Allyson_et_al

      But, MISANDRY!

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie
    • Allyson_et_al

      I was totally thinking about this when I made the comment. Thanks for finding it! :-)

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie
    • MEE

      Even if misandry isn’t real it’s still disgusting that some women call themselves Misandrists and joke about killing men. *Cue someone calling me an MRA*

    • Allyson_et_al

      No, but maybe *Cue someone wondering how in the world that statement is relevant to the discussion at hand*?

    • elegantapple

      This gif is inaccurate.

    • elegantapple

      Here’s the last resort from a person who can come up with an argument. Just use gifs!

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

      But, I’m not using gifs in an argument?

    • MEE

      I would be 100% creeped out if a woman in lingerie wanted children to sit on her lap. You’re right that sexism against men isn’t ok, but I am naturally more wary around men, that doesn’t make me a bad person.

    • elegantapple

      “but I am naturally more wary around men, that doesn’t make me a bad person.” Why are you more suspicious when it comes to men? Did you know that it is easier for women to hide their creepiness because they are women and no one will suspect them of anything? That’s a bit sexist within itself.

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

      Because there are more male sexual offenders than female. This is a fact.

      I don’t understand where the sexism comes in. Then again, though, as I stated earlier, I have a problem with children sitting in any stranger’s lap, regardless of gender. It’s weird.

      ETA: Honestly, there are so many worthwhile soapboxes to stand on regarding biases against men. This is such a bullshit one. I mean, Santa is a man. It stands to reason that people hired to PLAY Santa will be men. If Santa was a woman and a woman was hired to dress up in a costume and have children sit on her lap, it would be just as weird.

      Seriously, just go here and stop playing the misandrist argument illogically. http://goodmenproject.com/

  • pineapplegrasss

    I don’t make my kids sit on Santa’s lap either. This year my 8yo did and my 2yo did not want to. I didn’t even make him sit on the creeps lap long enough to get the crying snapshot. So fucked up to do to your own kids.

  • Alfreda Wells Morrissey

    I have never ‘made’ my kids sit on Santa. I take them every year to the same mall for the photo. When my daughter was 1, she never sat on his lap. She walked up and was fascinated with his glove so she touch his hand. The photographer had me call her name and we got a gorgeous photo of that. When he tried to pick her up, she did not want to go, so she didn’t go. I took the photo of her holding his hand. The second year she wouldn’t go near him, so I just got a photo of him holding my new baby. The year after. They just stood in front of him. Then next year, they went to his lap willingly and have ever since. I do not want a crying photo and would rather have no photo, but I treasure those photos as they are the only ones we get from a professional photographer until they started getting school photos. Maybe he is creepy, but is supervised and so I think it is safe and harmless. I do respect their boundaries though.

  • Bethany Ramos

    As usual, your post is hilarious!! Facial hair has a direct relationship to creepiness, depending on how you sport it…

  • thisshortenough

    In Ireland all Santas have to be Garda vetted, meaning they have to have no previous convictions. But I think it’s also a bit ridiculous to call every guy dressed as Santa Claus a creep just because you were anxious as a child.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Well, I don’t think every single guy dressed as Santa Claus is a creep. Being Garda vetted seems like a great idea–and shouldn’t that be the case for anyone who has to interact with kids?

    • thisshortenough

      Oh they do. My friends are studying to be teachers and had to be garda vetted before they could go on work placements

    • Aussiemum

      It’s the same here in Australia. You want to do anything child related, you must have a “working with children” card. It comes from the government and you have to fill out an application for and then they check out your entire history. And I mean everything. But if it keeps our little ones safe, then I’m all for it.

      Our shopping center Santa is awesome! He’s been doing it for years (he’s only missed 1 year due to a major illness and surprisingly a lot of kids didn’t bother seeing Santa that year) and all the kids love him. He’s a great guy, and our whole community adores him.
      Not all Santas are creepy, booze filled, stinky breathed cretins obsessed with groping teenage girls.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Glad to hear you guys got a good one!

  • Pumplestilskin

    The only photos we have of our kids with Santa is their first Christmas. After that I was too lazy. I just had to have that first Christmas. My oldest was 5 moths old, my son was a month old and sleeping and my youngest was 2 months old and barely 6 pounds. Santa was at Wal Mart, doing free pictures and was a man I had known my whole life. My kids have seen this Santa many times and believe he may be the real one. If you call him and tell him your kids need a visit from Santa he’ll stop in. He’s a very sweet man. that being said, I have very shy children. A “strange” Santa would Freak. Them. Out

  • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

    When I was a kid during the ’80s we lived in Germany and my parents wanted me to have the authentic American kid mall Santa experience. Thing is, they couldn’t find one, but what they did find was a guy dressed as Alf.

    I loved Alf as a kid, so I was on board…until realizing that tv Alf is an adorable cat-eating dwarf. IRL Alf is a man in an Alf costume.

    Apparently afterward the rest of the early childhood was spent screaming in terror at both tv Alf and people in fur coats.

    …That was a weird tangent. Who are you, where am I? Damn kids, get off my lawn.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      How can I upvote this more than once?

    • Kay_Sue

      This comment was a Christmas gift to the internet itself.

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

      Asked my mom if there’s photos, and apparently yes. Stay tuned.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      Do you need my personal email? How can I get this?

    • http://anniedeezy.tumblr.com/ Annie

      It’s “in a box in a closet somewhere” but I’ll be at the family’s tomorrow for holiday stuff. Excellent time to bury myself in the jumbled “archival closet” and look. When/If I find it, it’s going straight here.

    • http://Mommyish.com/ Eve Vawter

      This will be the best Christmas ever

  • EX

    I hate the mall Santa thing. Never did it as a kid and have no intention of forcing my kids to do it. It totally weirds me out to be encouraging my kids to sit on a total stranger’s lap.

  • Kay_Sue

    The image of you at Disneyland (Disneyworld? I don’t remember which…) made me chuckle out loud. That’s hilarious.

    • Julia Sonenshein

      I can try to find a picture at some point!

  • LiteBrite

    I don’t think all mall Santas are creepy by default, but it really bugs me when parents insist on taking their kids to the local mall Santa then take pictures of said child screaming and laugh about how cute it is. The kid is terrified! It’s not “cute.”

    • rrlo

      We stood in line with my 20 month old. He seemed really interested in taking a photo with Santa – when we were talking about it. Then when the moment came, he freaked out and cried. But by then it seemed a bit too late – so we have that sad, crying photo. I bet a lot of parents don’t anticipate the Santa “terror” until it’s too late and then they try to make the child feel better about it by smiling and showing an up-beat attitude.

  • Janok Place

    After reading all of this… I just realized, my obgyn doesn’t bother with the female chaperone anymore and I never even noticed. My creep-o-meter must be seriously flawed. My daughter’s isn’t, she’s totally irate when she sees a Santa. She’s 18 months and knows not to trust the weird old guy before you can even get within 20′ of the guy.

    • brebay

      Hope his med malpractice carrier doesn’t find that out, they’ll drop him quick!

    • Janok Place

      That’s just it, It never really occurred to me in the first place. His office is so over worked and there’s only one nurse, I’ve always just appreciated how quick they are.

    • Bethany Ramos

      In and out! ;)

    • Janok Place

      Bahaha right? Sitting there in a gown staring at one another waiting 15 minutes for the nurse would be so much worse.. So, so much worse..

    • Julia Sonenshein

      You can always ask for the chaperone if you’re uncomfortable!

    • SusannahJoy

      Are they required to have a chaperone? I thought they were just required to have one if requested. I’ve had plenty of male OBs, and they usually just asked me first. I was always fine without one though. Just because he doesn’t have one in there doesn’t mean he’s a creep. If anything it means they’re short staffed.

    • Janok Place

      Maybe that’s the thing. I’m 6 months pregnant with an 18 month old so I’ve been there um… A lot. I’m going to assume that since I have a decent relationship with the office in general it just isn’t a concern. She was there the first while. I think once, a long time ago, she asked if I’d be okay if she stepped out to take care of something and I agreed. I think after that they just weren’t worried. I mean really, any funny business down there and it’s nothing a swift kick in the head wouldn’t fix ;)

  • Joy

    When I was sixteen I worked in the mall as a seasonal employee at Christmas and my shop was right across from the Santa photo area. We regularly had elves coming over with dirty notes from Santa to give me, usually something along the lines of “you can sit in my lap any time.” I have always looked a few years younger than I am so at sixteen I looked closer to fourteen. Every day walking into work I got creepy eyebrow-waggling looks from Santa and my manager walked me to the car at the end of each night so I didn’t get into any creepy situations with Santa in the parking lot. Needless to say, my children will NOT be sitting in any mall Santa’s lap, ever. I agree with the author, the whole thing is creepy.

  • Natasha B

    ‘I was recently parented’ I loved that line :) hey yo for creep O meters!

  • Tsitika

    Aw, I’ve worked at a Santa set for two years, and the Santas we had were all lovely fathers and grandfathers who enjoyed working with kids. None of them were creeps. Sometimes they did get a little grumpy after a day of being screamed at and having their beards pulled, but they never got annoyed with the kids, only the parents. I don’t understand why parents insist on making their terrified children sit – I always felt bad, and so did Santa. But the Santas always went out of their way to try and show kids it’s not scary and make it “magical” for them. A lot of kids really enjoyed it! I don’t think it’s all bad.

  • LaidbackLiz

    We did the Santa picture last year and this year just to hand out to the family. My son gave him a “and WTF are YOU?!” look and reached very pointedly for me (I immediately took him, as hilarious as those crying Santa pictures are, I wasn’t going to torture him) and while I strapped my son back into his carrier my mom picked out the best picture while Santa asked her “Aren’t I the best looking Santa you’ve ever seen?” and “Next year you should consider Elf training!” ew. Just ew. While my mom doesn’t look like a “Grandma” Santa’s creepy comments may have ended our Christmas picture tour…

  • Anne B.

    At age two or three, I was so terrified of an old man sneaking into my house at night my parents had to tell me he wasn’t real. Here I am today, a teenager diagnosed with moderate anxiety. Birds of a feather, I suppose.

  • rrlo

    Unfortunately, real predators are usually low on the creep-meter. So I say bring on the mall Santa – they are easy to spot and likely bring no real danger to the kids. The nice soccer coach down the street with a computer full of kiddie porn (true story) on the other hand – no one ever suspects until he gets arrested.

    • elegantapple

      oh “she”

    • rrlo

      True. I said he because mall santas are generally male. And the arrested soccer coach was a man as well.

  • Ddaisy

    I would’ve thought that the number of creepy Santas would be far, far outweighed by the nice old grandpas, just as in the general population. (Perhaps moreso, because I think creepy guys would have a harder time getting hired as Santa than just existing.) Personally, I’ve never met a Santa I had any qualms about.
    I was also a very anxious child, but in a totally different way. For me, it was more like, “Am I doing this right? Do I sit on his lap first or take the candy cane first? Is it polite to ask how Mrs. Claus is doing or is that too personal? Is my butt too bony for his legs?”
    I was well aware of stranger danger and all that, but in a well-lit, crowded mall with my parents five feet away, a large staff of elves and photographers, and a guy who probably needed a criminal record check with a vulnerable sector check just to get hired as Santa? Would not have even remotely occured to me as a potentially creepy situation.