Explaining Mall Santas to Kids: 3 Tactics for Fudging the Truth

We were at our local Cabela's over the weekend, and in order to give my husband more time in his happy place (the shotgun aisle) (what?), I took the kids on a brief tour of the adjacent mall. As we wandered around, there it suddenly was, looming before us in a festive knot of impatient parents, hovering photographers, overdressed children, and a bearded man perched on a plastic thronelike chair: the Mall Santa Display.

My 7-year-old peered at Santa for a bit, then turned to me and asked in a clear voice that fully captured the attention of every single parent waiting in line: "Mom, is that the real Santa?"


It seems to me that there are two main ways of answering this question, assuming your children are Santa Believers and you're not the sort of parent who is so invested in honesty that you take it upon yourself to loudly announce that of COURSE it isn't, SANTA ISN'T REAL.

Mall Santa Tactic the First: Yes. Yes, that is totally the real Santa. It's goddamned amazing, isn't it? Sure, he's definitely busy preparing toys at the North Pole these days, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have time to hang out in the Gateway Mall for an afternoon, kid. How does he do all this, you ask? Maybe you've heard of a little thing called magic? Duh. Now go sit on his lap before he gives you a lump of coal.

Mall Santa Tactic the Second: No, that's a Helper Santa. Santa is so busy getting ready for Christmas he has helpers who are available to listen to children's wish lists and take their requests back to the real Santa.

I posed the Mall Santa question on Twitter yesterday, and based on the responses, I'd say the second tactic is by far the most popular. A couple people had some interesting twists on the tradition:

They are Santa's helpers, but one of them might just be the real Santa, so it's a good idea to be on your best behavior. -- @wonderfulchaos

Those are clones, it's the only way the system will work with all these people. -- @phaidinyak

As for me, I took a third approach:

Mall Santa Tactic the Third, Particularly Useful in the Case of Slightly Panicking Because a Lot of Other Parents Are Clearly Listening to See What You're Going to Say: Deflect, deflect, deflect. Here's what I said: "Do you think that's the real Santa?"

My son looked at the Santa -- who was, by the way, a most excellent Mall Santa, with twinkling blue eyes and a perfectly natural-looking beard and a comfortable round belly -- and nodded. "Yeah, I think it really is."

And that was that. If we'd had any further discussion, I'm sure I would have gone with Mall Santa Tactic the Second, but I'm charmed he decided he'd seen the real deal.

What's your approach to explaining Mall Santas?

Image via Walakazoo/Flickr

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