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Christmas with Santa

The author and her Santa son.

It started with a phone call in mid-November. Between jobs, I was temping at a county workforce development office. The caller was almost in panic mode. She hired the staff for Santa photos in malls in our area. A manager had resigned; she needed a replacement right away. I asked what the job entailed — managing the staff, hiring elves, taking photos of children, running the stage area, scheduling, timesheets and bank deposits. “I can do all that,” I said. And so it began.

An Assistant Manager and three Santas had been hired, I needed one more. A gentleman I knew had performed for years in the local production of “A Christmas Carol.” He was perfect. A bunch of elves was easy: my son and his high school. lady friends were all hired. The opening parade the length of the mall was fun, and I looked forward to this new adventure.

The Assistant Manager was young, finishing college and delightful to work with. I opened arriving at 9AM, he came in at 4PM, closed the set at 9PM with an hour of paper work and bank deposits. This lasted less than two weeks when he accepted a fulltime job.  My day began at 7:30AM phoning the main office, I headed home at 10PM with no days off.  None of my 17-year-old elves stayed to help clean up or do deposit slips. Their parents picked them up at 9PM, and they were gone.

The Santas themselves were stories. One was okay on set, but his costume, beard, gloves, shoes (with boots) and belt had to be checked every time he came in. Not allowed to take a bathroom break, he would announce, “Time to feed the reindeer,” and wander into a nearby store. The young guy Santa often left a message he would be late or not coming in at all. I scheduled him when my son was working who was often upgraded from elf to Santa. The former actor and perfect Santa who did not need tending stopped by the set. He was a lawyer and had a complaint. I was violating his rights by not allowing bathroom breaks on his four hour shift.  My Santas were allowed water or soda on the set, but would have to go to the office, remove the costume, go to the public restroom then go back and put on costume. I guess Santa is not allowed to be seen relieving himself by little children. The lawyer said, “I don’t need this,” and quit. My son became Santa, a good one but who did not like taking orders from the Manager.

Some help for me came less than two weeks before Christmas. A neighbor who'd just finished her college semester was able to come in the evening as Assistant Manager. This became my dinner break, Christmas shopping, card writing and cleaning up the office time. She went home at 9PM and I finished up.

Three days before Christmas my son and I were exhausted. We could not travel to family for Christmas, as we had to pack up everything and have it shipped on Dec. 26th.  Before we opened my son was leaning on the railing with his leg on the railing.  Mall management was strict in our demeanor on the set.  When I asked him to please take his leg off railing, he picked up a small empty wrapped box, hurled it at me and walked off.  A woman at the front of the line was horrified.  I said, “It’s okay, that’s my son.” Of course I no longer had a morning elf helping with the photos, taking payments or fetching water.

Was this a truly memorable Christmas for us? Yes, but not in a good way. Full of peace, love and joy? Would we ever consider doing it again? Absolutely not.