Jingle bells, flashing lights and Christmas trees are dominating Milwaukee’s stores. Those with small children, nieces and nephews may be drawn to the mall for a visit with Santa, hoping that he will answer the wishes of children on Christmas day.
The mall Santa has been around for decades. According to Richard W. O’Donnell, writer for the Yankee Magazine, the first department store Santa was introduced in 1890 at the Boston Store in Brockton, Massachusetts. The owner of the store, James Edgar, otherwise known as “Big Jim,” would put on a Santa costume and visit with the children who came holiday shopping.
In the article, Edgar said, “I have never been able to understand why the great gentleman lives at the North Pole. He is so far away. He is only able to see the children one day a year. He should live closer to them.”
Edgar wanted to give children a chance to see Santa and make a connection with him before Christmas day, and he did so by bringing “Santa” to his department store to meet the children. It was such a hit that people started coming from all over Massachusetts to see him. Ever since James Edgar’s appearance as the big man, Santas have been a major part of wintertime shopping.
Every year, thousands of children flock to Mayfair Mall to visit with Santa, a visit that involves standing in a long line, which may be a bit different from Edgar’s original vision.
You can make a reservation for an eight minute time slot to sit on Santa’s lap getting preferential visiting time, but there is a hitch. You must go to celebrateyourholiday.com and pay $34.99, which gives you a squeeze from Santa and a photo package including two 5x7s, four 4x6s, 16 wallet-sized and a digital download photo. In addition, it is a non-refundable reservation. You certainly can stand in line without a reservation, but regardless, you cannot use your own camera, so put your cellphones away!
On a personal note, I am saddened that a visit with Santa is now becoming commercialized. Sure you can get a professional photo, but it certainly comes at a high cost. The big man in demand at Mayfair did not reply to my requests for an interview. I wonder if I would have paid for a reservation if I could have asked him a few questions.
On a positive note, however, one mall Santa has gone viral. At a special gathering in Charlotte, North Carolina called the Caring Santa Event, this Santa is willing to get down on the floor and interact with children who are afflicted with autism. To me, this is what Christmas should really be about.
Next time when you are in the mall to do your Christmas shopping, and you pass Santa Claus, try to remember how the mall Santa began all those years ago and try to spread the holiday spirit in a time when our digital world has taken over.