Most kids who celebrate Christmas, and maybe even some who don't, like the concept of Santa. After all, he's a smiling Grandpa-looking guy who dumps toys under twinkly trees. What's not to like – especially when he's safely depicted in a book or on a screen?
But for many kids, getting up close and personal with an in-the-flesh mall Santa is another story. And not one that causes visions of sugarplums to dance in their little heads. For a lot of children, Santa is downright scary. But why?
Perhaps it's simply because Santa is a total stranger, and many young kids experience separation anxiety when they are not near or being held by a parent or caregiver.
"I don't know why I thought my daughter would be OK with sitting on Santa's lap," says Carole Dante, a Whitefish Bay mom with a 1-year-old. "She doesn't even want to sit on my mother-in-law's lap."
Some kids are scared or suspicious of people with a lot of facial hair. (Excluding the children of hipsters, of course, who are accustomed to a village of bearded grown ups, ha). Plus, a lot of Santas wear glasses, too, making Mr. Claus even more clandestine.
But would a bald-faced fella help kids warm up to the North Pole's most famous resident? Probably not. Considering that parents warn young children about stranger danger and tell them never to go near someone they don't know, it's understandable that kids are programmed to be leery of Santa and even feel confused that parents are suddenly suggesting they sit on a stranger and tell him their deepest desires.
Actually, it's surprising that more kids aren't uncomfortable with the idea of Santa busting into their house when everyone's asleep. After all, if Santa can slide down the chimney, can't a robber? A zombie? Luckily, most kids don't put these things together, but some do.
"My son asked if Santa could just ring the doorbell. He was worried about him getting stuck in the chimney and not comfortable with him walking around the house while we were sleeping," says Naomi Lauren.
Sometimes kids might have adverse reactions to Santa because Santa might resonate what the New Agers call "bad energy." After all, there's a good chance the guy has been peed on 12 times already that day, not to mention the beard pulling, crying and endless requests for technology devices and video games he's never heard of.
Perhaps by 3:45 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon a week before Christmas, ol' St. Nick isn't feeling so jolly, and kids pick up on this. Suddenly, there's not a jingle bell that's jingly enough to make little Sammy smile for the camera.
Julie Baker says her 2-and-a-half-year-old son, like most toddlers, doesn't care about new toys. He, in fact, prefers the ones he already has. So sitting on Santa's lap, which he recently did with his 8-year-old sister at Mayfair Mall, wasn't exactly a magical experience for him.
"He is happy with his toys now, and he thinks those will go away if Santa comes," says Baker. "As soon as I took him off his lap, he said, 'No Santa!' and then asked to go on the elevator."
According to Dante, most of the time, visiting Santa at the mall is for the parents, not the kids. Parents, she says, want to have photos to put in holiday cards or to save as keepsakes whereas most children would skip the experience all together.
"My daughter would have been happier staying home and watching 'Rudolph' for the umpteenth time, but I wanted to put her in the new dress and show her off at the mall," says Dante. "I'm really turning into my mother."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.