mall santaThat’s it. I’ve decided that I’m never taking my daughter to a crappy Santa impersonator again for the rest of her life. All they do is mess up the illusion and inspire a whole lot of unanswerable questions from curious children like mine.

I can understand where the logic comes from. Visiting Santa Claus by the mall food court was a way for doubtful kids to meet the big guy himself and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. It provided an adorable photo op for parents and a bit of holiday excitement for little ones. Win – win.

Unfortunately, there are now white beards and red coats running around everywhere. The entire process has gotten a whole lot more business-like. These guys aren’t reassuring anyone about the existence of a mythical man from the North Pole.

Last weekend, my daughter and I headed out to a movie. (If you haven’t seen Rise of the Guardians, GO!) Afterwards, we decided to walk around the outdoor mall that the movie theater was attached to. It was a beautiful day and my daughter is still looking for a gift to give her dad. That’s when we passed by the food court and it’s big, decked-out Christmas display, complete with smiling Santa Claus. I just couldn’t say no to my daughter, who was so excited to get to go in and talk to Santa.

The line was blissfully short, but that wasn’t enough to make this a good experience. As my daughter was trying to introduce herself to Santa, an irritated-looking teenager walked up and informed me that all children seeing Santa Claus must purchase at least the minimum picture package. It was two 5×7’s and it cost over $20, but my daughter was already trying to crawl into Santa’s lap. I told the young man we didn’t have a problem purchasing the pictures.

When my little girl started talking to Santa, it was clear that his mind was focused on the business side of impersonating this beloved children’s character. She was asking him where his elves were. He was pointing to the camera and asking her to smile. She wanted to know if there were any reindeer around. He kept asking the only question a mall Santa Claus has to remember, “What would you like for Christmas this year?”

I tried to remain excited. I tried to explain away Santa’s brisk answers and the general sense of being rushed through the experience by reminding my daughter how busy Mr. Claus is at this time of year. She asked, “If he’s so busy, why is he just sitting around waiting for kids to come see him?” And so began a long line of questions that I was not equipped to answer.

“He’s here so he can hear what little kids like you want for Christmas,” I tried to explain.

“Then why did I have to write him a letter?” she countered.

“Well, I wasn’t sure we would get the chance to see Santa. We just wanted to be sure,” I told her.

“I thought he was magic!” she cried, exasperated.

Through our car ride home, the questions didn’t end. She asked about kids in other states and countries, and how they would meet Santa. By this point, I had sold this impostor as the real thing. I couldn’t figure out how to backtrack and begin the whole, “He’s one of Santa’s helpers sent from the North Pole to help Santa find out what all the little girls and boys want.”

I was just considering how to introduce this conversation in when we passed a restaurant that happened to have their own Santa Claus for children to visit. There he was, five minutes away from mall Santa, hauling kids up onto his lap and smiling for pictures.

My daughter was incredulous from the back seat. “Mom!” she bellowed, “What the heck?” She felt very mature using that phrase. I could tell she felt like the situation needed the emphasis. “What is going on here?” she demanded.

I stumbled. I muttered. I decided to wait until we got home to have the talk face to face, so I tried to stall. I had not been prepared to defend the existence of Santa to my 4-year-old.

At home, I made a big deal about my “confession.” I explained that whole Santa spy business. I tried to help her see that Santa had an enormous job to do and he needed help. I implored her not to tell her cousin, hoping that the feeling of being in on a secret would make the situation better.

My daughter listened carefully. She asked a few questions, her face scrunched with skepticism. She told me that she would have to think about it. I figure that I’m going to need to up my game on the other magic parents attempt to create as proof. Eaten cookies and reindeer prints and separate “From Santa” wrapping paper and bows are all necessities this year. I’ll work as hard as I can to restore the Santa illusion. But I just would like to point out that none of this would be necessary without all the crappy fake Kris Kringles running around out there.

(Photo: Irina Magrelo/Shutterstock)