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Behind the Velvet Curtain With a Retail Santa

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Chicago, Il


Whitney Houston is singing, "Hark! Are the Bells; Sweet Silver Bells," on the boom box.Two Christmas trees bow with oversized red globes, pyramids of beckoning but empty gifts on their skirts. Wreaths, snowflakes and Peace on Earth plaques line the promenade to the Santa altar. And the throne? A Neptune-esque red velvet upholstered mountain with griffins and other phantasmagoria carved into its gold arms and back.

Boys and Girls--start your wish list.

There are no Jimmys or Susies or Tommys or Marys among the crop of preschoolers in striped earflap hats and Tickle boots waiting to see Santa

Post-2003 parents seem to have decided no one will diminish their kid's name into a nickname with an "e," and named their boys Connor, Webster, Garret and Tyler--and their girls, Emily, Emma, Maya and Mia--just to be sure.

Nor will these kids lack electronic records of their every smile, candy cane, new hat and new tooth from these 21st century parents with ever ready cameras and even video cameras.

But after the iPods, video games and laptops the kids ask for--"what will you do with the laptop?" Santa asks a five-year-old who replies, "I didn't know!"--the girls still want cupcake baking kits and the boys want dump trucks. The girls want stuffed animals and the boys want train sets.

As with all "Santa opportunities" the longer parents spend dressing their baby in its red or pink holiday outfit for a pose with Santa for Christmas cards, the more likely said baby is to erupt in wounded paroxysms of abandonment at its thirty second exile on Santa's lap. One lady had two infants dressed in their holiday best for a crying photo.

Many a three-year-old hides behinds Mom's legs and will only talk to Santa through an interpreter. "You want to tell Santa what you told us you this morning about the transformer toy? Remember?"

But there are also kids who run right up to Santa and hug him--no doubts about his authenticity or magnanimous personality for these believers!--and climb right up on his lap.

And then there are the adults.

You might think with the crisis in public confidence over politicians and the economy people have become cynical about Santa story.

That 50-year-olds with sore feet who aren't even Christian anyway would bark at Santa when he greets them with the impossibly corny, "Ho Ho Ho --what can I get you for Christmas?"

You would be wrong.

Collective belief in politicians and governors may have waned but people still seem to have respect for the Santa "office."

If they think "you're just a HVAC professional under that stupid suit" and "you put your boots on one foot at a time like me," they don't let on.

Sure some adults answer, "a million dollars" and, "a new car," when Santa asks their wishes. But other ask for world peace and their jobs to be spared with no visible irony.

A thirtysomething woman with dishwater blond hair and a newly adopted three-month-old asks that everyone trying to adopt would be so blessed.

"Support his back," adds the new dad to Santa.

A pretty brunette in blue jeans, three-year-old and a one-year-old in tow says what she wants for Christmas, looking at her tall, bespeckled husband is, "another baby."

A fourteen-year-old who proudly tells Santa's helper he attends military school waits to see Santa Claus in line without a trace of cynicism.

And how to explain the gifts to Santa from his visitors? The girl who drew him a picture and the one who gave him a Panera Bread gift card?

The mom who tried to give Santa five dollars for the "quality time" with her kids?

Isn't that backwards?

While some accuse the Santa figure of being an icon of Christianity-fueled capitalism and consumerism that keeps cash registers ringing, it doesn't explain parents from traditionally non-Christian countries like Japan and China wanting to place their infants on his lap.

Especially when they don't even have a camera to capture the moment.

Is a moment with Santa a benediction from a patriarch who can never punish or disappoint?

On the Christmas Carols Rock! CD Jose Feliciano is singing Feliz Navidad as Santa continues to accept orders for webkinz and WWE action figures. One girl wants a Hannah Montana doll. A boy--Dickens, anyone?--want "new shoes." A four-year-old tells Santa solemnly he wants a "golf course."

 

Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative pubic health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)
 
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