It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas carols are on the radio, people are baking delectable holiday-themed cookies, and everyone is gussying up their homes in festive decorations. And in malls everywhere, hordes of children are lined up with their parents waiting for their chance to share their holiday wish lists with “Santa Claus.” However, being a seasonal Santa at a mall or amusement park isn’t always a glamorous gig. Kids are going to be kids. They’re going to say the first thing that pops into their heads. Sometimes it’s silly, but it can also be brutally honest and heartfelt. Even the real deal Santa from the North Pole would have trouble fulfilling some of their requests. We've compiled some of the most interesting experienced by mall Santas and their helpers. Trust us, you’ll never look at that long line in the middle of your local shopping center the same again.
An added hazard for us Australian Santas is that X-Mas is the middle of summer here and a lot of functions are outdoors. A thick woolen suit is like a nightmare hotbox. You'd think we'd adapt the outfit for our climate but apparently, we aren't that smart.
My uncle was a mall Santa who said a creepy little girl wanted “everyone to bow down to her.”
My best friend's father is a plump older man who puts on the red suit each year.
My friend’s dad told me that one year a little girl that said she wanted “mommy's boogers.” Worse yet, no explanation was given. As far as weird presents kids asked for, he said surprisingly, nothing else has even come close.
One kid got on my lap and asked me if I could give him a bag of “wiggly rice.” I asked him what that was, and he said he ate some off a piece of chicken he found in the backyard. He said it was so yummy he wishes he had a whole bag of it.
I was a Santa in a pub once. I took a shot of vodka beforehand. The second kid pulled my beard off, the third wanted a Ferrari… it was a long three hours!
I was an elf/Santa helper once. The weirdest (and most amazing) present a kid asked for was “a book about pigeons.”
I answered the letters that kids would write to Santa once, and a kid asked for a remote control buffalo. I don't blame him for wanting one. I'd play with that too!
About a half dozen kids asked for fax machines. This was in 1989. I'm pretty sure they had no idea what they were. I had no idea what they were. I thought it was a version of Big Wheel or something.
I worked as a photographer for a mall Santa. It's not that weird, but my favorite moment was when a kid asked for a live octopus or shark. Santa said he wasn't sure if his elves would be able to make those. The kid said he'd settle for a giant squid if he had to.
I was a Santa for three years in college. The most memorable moment—a sad one—was a young boy who asked if I could bring him a “new Daddy because his had died during military service and his Mommy was lonely.” I saw the look of sorrow and pain in his pretty mother's face, even as she was trying to make Christmas special for her son.
As a Santa at parties, the toughest one was having a little girl who wanted her father home from prison. That was awkward and I had to promise her that although some presents take several years to get, they are the most worth it when it happens. I added the usual assurance that her daddy missed her and loved her. It's a lot easier when they want Barbies.
I have been Santa for several seasons. I had a special needs young woman (approximate age of 40, emotional of 12 perhaps) ask me to make her boyfriend quit hitting her. I told a lady who was helping me to get the deputy sheriff at the event to come see me. I whispered to him what she had said. He came back ten minutes later and asked if I would speak to her in a private area. There the deputy and Santa got a clearer but very disturbing picture of how she had been repeatedly abused.
In May, the deputy let me know the offender had been sentenced to eight years and the girl had been relocated to a new care facility.
The kid at the front of the line yells to his mom, so everyone in the mall can hear, “Mom, can I ask Santa to use his special magic to get dad out of jail?” But when he got on my lap he asked for a car.
One day I had a long line of kids all upset and crying. A company was having their X-Mas party in another part of the mall and had their own Santa who was handing out presents to the children of the employees. Problem was that this was in full view of the public, so it was clear that there were TWO SANTAS at the mall. And only one was handing out presents.
My dad was a department store Santa in the '50s when he was in high school. A group of giggling teenaged girlfriends came in and were pressuring the redhead to sit on Santa's lap first and tell him what she wanted. She didn't want to, and finally one of the girls just said something like "Junie wants a date with Santa for Christmas!" They all laughed, and he finally agreed meet her for lunch.
What had happened was that my mom (the redhead) had seen my dad working at the store before, and gushed with her friends about how she thought he was so cute and had pretty blue eyes and dark wavy hair and so on. Well, one of her friends knew he was playing Santa, and got the gaggle of giggling girlfriends together to go to the store under the pretense of shopping. Then they all "decided" go see Santa and they were going to make mom go first. And that's how my dad met my mom!
The most memorable thing a kid asked me for Christmas? Oh definitely the kid who wanted to pee. Same old introduction as always, asking what she wants for Christmas. She says, “I wanna pee!” Trying to change the topic to help the kid choose, get the picture taken, and move on.
She says once again, “I wanna pee!” The parents insist that the kid choose something and I sit there awkwardly with this little girl wriggling all over me. She's crying and they're insisting and then my lap gets warm. Just why?
A few years back I filled in for Santa at a locally owned toy store. As I don't quite look old enough to be Santa (and I have a full lush gingery lumberjack beard) I was billed as “Nick Jr.” and the story was that my dad was Santa and I was in training to be the next Santa—he was having me go and fill in for him at some of the usual stops as part of my training in getting to talk to the little kids.
Oh man, the kids loved that. There was a rocking chair that I was "supposed" to sit in, but I sat on the floor with the kids and chatted and it was awesome. The kids really connected with this idea of a "trainee Santa."
The most heart-wrenching story was a little girl, about seven or so, who was staying with her dad and stepmom because her mommy was deathly ill in the hospital. She came and saw me every day that I was there and she just wanted to talk to someone she KNEW could really understand where she was coming from in her fear. She hoped that she could come visit the North Pole, but understood if it wasn't possible.
My last day of the gig she brought me a handwritten-in-crayon note thanking me for everything, saying she was glad to have met me and hoping that I grew up to be the best Santa ever. Let me tell you, all the feels. I am going to keep that damned note forever.
A friend and I went to ZooLights a few years ago, where the zoo opens at night lit up with Christmas lights, and you can buy hot chocolate and Baileys or apple cider and whiskey and walk around listening to music with the animals. Of course, we stood in line to get our picture with Santa.
When our turn came he pulled us in and whispered, “I have had three kids tonight ask me if I can get their dads a job for Christmas. The world is messed up, and you young guys have to do something about it.”
Whenever I make a big decision, I still think about whether I'm being true to my mission from Santa.
When I was a freshman in college, I got a gig as a mall Santa at a smaller local mall. A little girl came up to me and sat on my lap. I asked her in the most jovial way what she wanted for Christmas. She pulls out a picture of her dead dog and says, “Can you bring my dog back?” The look on her face when I said no was heart-wrenching.
I have been doing the Santa thing for a few years now at a tree farm with a cabin in it. The most heart-wrenching story I have is not mine, but from the other Santa that I work with.
There was an older woman (mid-twenties) that was mentally handicapped and when she sat on this Santa's lap she got really quiet and it took him asking her what she wanted for Christmas several times before she spoke up.
She said, “Santa, my mommy is dying and I need one more year with mommy, Santa, please give mommy one more year.” Before he could say anything she threw her arms around him and gave him a hug while she started crying. Her caretaker (possibly father) then led her away.
The next Christmas she came back to the farm and was very excited to see Santa, you see her mother had lived for another year and she sat on Santa's knee and asked Santa for another year, that she knew and believed in him and that she had been very good the whole year through.
She had been careful to be good and came to Santa again because she wanted her mommy to live for another year, just like last year. “Santa, just one more year, please Santa, just one more year.” Again, before he could say anything, she was giving him a near strangling hug and then was led away by her caretaker.
The next year she was back, but she was obviously very upset. She sat again on Santa's knee and looked at him and started to sob. She said she knew Santa had tried his hardest, that he did the best he could, that she should have asked for ten years the first time instead of just the one. She apologized for being so angry at Santa for letting her mommy die.
This Santa looked at her and gave her a long hug and he said to her, “My child, your mommy has passed away, but she will live forever in your heart as long you remember her.” She got really quiet and stopped crying and looked at him. She whispered to him, "I love you mommy. I love you Santa." She hugged him very tightly and then was led away by her caretaker.
She has not been back since, but my co-Santa said to me that it was moments and people like her that make being Santa so important to him and why he will never quit.
I was a mall Santa once in college. I'm from the Northeast US and the college was in the Deep South.
The funniest experience was the one little kid who, after I had been chatting with him for a while, looked at me wide-eyed and said, “Santa, you sound like a Yankee!” After a few seconds of frantic desperation, I simply told him, “Well, that's because I live at the NORTH Pole.” He found the logic inescapable, plus me promising him a football helped.
Teenagers like to sit on your lap and try to “shock” you (which probably works with many Santas but I was pretty young when I did the job). One evening this rocker girl came in with her friends and sat on my lap and when I asked her what she wanted for X-Mas, she said, “Kurt Cobain's body.” So I put on this guilty act and replied, “Oh, I still feel really bad about that 'cause I gave him the gun.”
I used to volunteer as an elf for Santa where we would visit underprivileged children. I was probably about 13 at the time. There were lots of heartbreaking things—kids asking for school supplies, cheap toys I had plenty of, etc. Once Santa said he would see what he could do about their gift, I would hand them a little toy, and say “Merry Christmas!”
And then a little boy came up, probably no older than six. Santa asked him what he wanted. He paused, and quietly responded, “A family.” Santa didn't know what to say. My heart dropped. It was the first time I realized how much I took the love from my family for granted.
Santa somehow managed to ask the kid again, getting him to spit out a skateboard as his answer. I hope that kid got more than just his skateboard.
I was elementary school Santa for three years. This experience still haunts me. I'd had a long morning of little tykes with retail advertising dreams of all kinds of shiny new “must have” toys, older boys with dreams of motorized vehicles, and older girls with dreams of “cute boys” and makeup and clothes. After a break to “feed the reindeer” (those costumes are HOT), I returned to a busy classroom filled with kids working at all the activities and having fun. And then, after another hour of the usual, I met two little children dressed in their Sunday best.
And each of them perched on my knee, looked deep into my eyes, and asked, quietly and from the depths of their hearts, “Please Santa. I don't want any toys. I don't want anything. I just want my baby sister to get better.” And suddenly I knew who they were, their little sister, aged seven, was dying of cancer in the local children's hospital. We had already done a school fundraiser for her and her family. Our scout troop had raked leaves at their house and helped them with their Thanksgiving dinner.
It took everything I had to not weep. I hugged each child close in turn, gave them their candy cane, and told them that it wasn't up to Santa, but I would do my best to put in a good word with the guy upstairs. And told them to remember that everybody loved them too, and that it was OK to have fun for themselves. And that I would do what I could to make sure they had some presents.
They each smiled a little bit in turn, and went to hug each other and their grandmother. I could see the smile through the pain in her eyes and she led them to other activities.
I called a break to “check on Rudolph on the roof,” and walked as rapidly as I could to the teacher's lounge. Where I wept quietly for the little girl, and her family, and the unselfish love of little children.
And then put on the suit and went back to work with a broken heart.
She died two days after Christmas. We planted a butterfly garden at the school in her name, just outside the office window. It's a pretty place, with a shaded bench and brilliant flowers. And the butterflies come there in the summer and dance.
I was Santa last year at a pet store and took pictures for six hours. It was one of the most miserable days I can remember in a long time. For one, they don't tell you that wearing a Santa suit is like wearing an ill-fitting suit made of fiberglass insulation. Hot and itchy as heck.
Second, even at a pet store, you've got to play Santa the whole time since a lot of kids come in too. So imagine being in a play where you don't know the lines and it's six hours long.
Third, the same people with ill-mannered kids also have ill-mannered pets. Now imagine a family photo with six little brats and four dogs, one of whom I thought was going to murder someone. I'm holding a small kid with one arm and basically choking a small dog by its collar so it won't bite my sleeve anymore.
All the while I too have to smile. Even though I was wearing an overly huge beard over my existing beard (beardception) and you couldn't see literally any of my face the photographer kept saying, "smile Santa." I wanted to yell at her. So I can mark that down on my list of never doing that again.
My uncle who was a mall Santa all his life once had a spot well decorated with plastic trees, sheets of cotton as snow and wrapped up boxes with bows. At that spot, a child came up onto his lap and said he wanted whatever was in one of the wrapped up boxes. My uncle then afterward caught up with the kid’s father with that very box and said: “Whatever you are getting your son for Christmas, make sure it is in this box!” My uncle was a pretty awesome guy.
I work as a Santa for an amusement park. Most wishes are pretty harmless but some stand out. For instance, last weekend I had a child write one specific thing on his wishlist: “Lasagna.” It was pretty odd and funny.
Then there are the heartbreaks like children wishing for their pets to be revived. Last year I had a child who wished for his father to return, meanwhile the child’s mother stood next to us and said: “I wish for that too.”
My friend was a mall Santa last year. Kids kept asking him for different kinds of smartphones, tablets, computers, and consoles. Nothing else. Just tech. Therefore, the weirdest thing he was asked for was a Barbie doll.
I was an elf at the mall, and one time the Santa asked us to give him a little break. When the mall closed I asked him what that was all about. He said he asked a little boy (about seven or eight) what he wanted for Christmas, and the boy said shoes, socks and maybe some new sheets.
He asked the boy “Don't you want some DVDs or a cool new toy?”
And the boy said, “No, that's okay, those things are really expensive. I just want to see a present with my name on it, and I think I'd like to have two pairs of shoes.”
Broke my heart because I was that kid. I know how it feels to see nice things and think those things aren't meant for me.
My dad plays a mall Santa and I used to be the photographer. Watching the older women flirt with my dad was highly uncomfortable then creepy.
Years ago, I was in line with my six-year-old nephew for his visit with Santa. When Santa asked my nephew what he wanted for Christmas, he said, “Could you get Mommy and Daddy some pajamas? Because they don't wear any.” The whole line broke up, including Santa.
I was hired to be Santa at a school once. The youngest kids were the best. Like, there was something off about this Santa but they couldn't figure it out. Maybe because I was 27 at the time.
“Are you really Santa?” they would ask. I replied, “If I wasn't Santa, then why would I be wearing this hat?” Then just watch the gears turn.
One rather lonely overweight gal kept getting in line several times a week to get pictures with Santa. I was in college myself back then and I'm pretty sure she was working herself up to asking me out. Extremely shy, awkward and had some hygiene issues. She only paid for one of the photos but the elves remember seeing her throughout the week when I wasn't on shift. Apparently, she only got pictures with me.
I was in my 20s and the perverted things the mothers whispered into my ear while sitting on Santa's lap were definitely something for the naughty list to be sure. It became so frequent for the younger Santas to get groped, teased, and molested that the elves were told to stay close when adults got their pictures taken. Elf security to be sure.
I used to photograph the kids with Santa. A little girl asked for a boy toy. Santa was like, “What?”
Her mom was a few feet away from the stage and says, “She means a truck!”
I've been a mall Santa in Bangkok, Thailand for the last six years and it does get weird at times. Many kids here don't have that conditioned positive response to an old man with a scraggly beard and red suit and are terrified. Last year, I finally convinced the mall people to put a stool next to me to seat the kids on, rather than my lap.
The parents can stand behind and hold them while being in the picture. The result was much happier kids. Some still very wary, but that's a good thing.
I had helped Santa for almost twenty years, but mostly for private parties and events. I did cover for him many years ago in a little mall in Belding, Michigan. A little girl came up with a group of kids and didn't even look up at me and didn't want to talk or get a candy cane. I asked her what was wrong. She said I didn't give her what she asked for last year and started crying.
I told her I was sorry and would try again this year. She said I couldn't because she asked Santa to stop daddy from hurting mommy and he didn't. Her mother was killed by her father. All I could do was apologize. The chaperone took the girl away, not saying anything.
I went home sick, removed my suit and never wore it again. I don't know if the other person helping Santa that day thought they could do something for that little angel, but she was betrayed. I still think about her every holiday season. I haven't helped Santa since and don't think I ever will again.
I worked as an elf when I was 15. One kid asked for a new liver. Apparently, he was healthy, just wanted one “to play with and stuff.”
I was a Santa photographer for four years. The most tear-jerking moment was when a terminally ill little girl (cancer) got wheeled in and asked for her hair back. Despite how busy we were, Santa had her there for around 30 minutes and did everything in the book to make her and her parents smile; it was beautiful. He completely disregarded the manager's rules of three minutes with each kid max. The moment they left though, Santa started crying, and he had to go on break.
The guy was a retired cop who worked in the APY lands of South Australia, an area rife with suicide callouts, whole family disputes, and drug abuse. To have a hardened cop cry like that makes you realize how good you have things.
I did it once and never again. Some of the things still haunt me.
One little girl was the sweetest most well-spoken girl and asked that her parents would love each other again so they could get back together and they could be a family again, the pain in her voice still hurts my heart almost a decade later. Another boy wanted his dad to come back from Iraq. Another little boy wanted his dad back and told me he died in Afghanistan. One asked for his parents to get jobs, because they both lost them.
A few others just ran to me and gave me the biggest and most loving hugs and though those aren't really sad they really struck a nerve with me, just such genuine love from complete strangers.
I am not an emotional person normally, but even typing this brought me to tears. Kids should not be worrying about some of these things. I would never do it again, you expect toys and gadgets but things like these I never expected and they will be things that break my heart for the rest of my life.
I worked as a mall Santa in high school and likely experienced every crazy story you could imagine, but one in particular stands out most vividly in my mind.
A young boy waited quietly with his mother in line until it was his turn to sit in my lap and have his picture taken. As his mother started to follow him up towards my chair, he turned around and yelled, “No! Mom you have to stay back there!” I watched the mom look at him pleadingly and she reluctantly agreed to keep her distance. As I tried to make sense of the situation, I invited him up to my chair.
He looked to be eight or nine, which was older than most (~75%) of the kids in line. When I got around to asking him what he wanted for Christmas, his eyes locked onto mine and it happened: "If you're real, then aren't you supposed to know?"
As I fumbled around with my words, it dawned on me. Here he was, on the cusp of becoming a non-believer, and his plan was to make sure his mother couldn't whisper to me the gift he had been hoping for. I tried to play it cool, and come up with an explanation on the fly, when suddenly the mother dropped her bags and started jumping, punching, and kicking the air. Furiously trying to get my attention! Shoppers stopped dead in their tracks, staring at her (we were at the main intersection of a two-story indoor mall).
I said something along the lines of "Well you can't expect me to bring you those Power Rangers if you aren't a good boy and listen to your mother!" He melted, instantly. His eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped. Before I could react he buried his head into my foam-padded chest and gave me the best hug all Christmas season.
The mother couldn't believe it herself, and tried to gather herself as her overjoyed son turned to run and explain to her how Santa really is real, and that he had proven it (at least for another year). Worth it!
A little girl no more than five was screaming bloody murder when it was her turn. Kids get scared of Santa, it’s not that uncommon. Her dolled up mom was having none of her child's tantrum and the elves were pleading with her to not put the girl on my lap. She did and her kid instantly stopped screaming. Just had this look of pure hatred at her mom for the remainder of the photo session.
I swear, I thought I was on Candid Camera, it looked so acted out. Attempting to talk to the little terror, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she looked at me and softly said just above a whisper, “for my Mommy to die.” Noped myself to a break after that one. It was the inside joke for the rest of the mall Santa season, (whispering between kids) “I want you to die!!!!”
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