I feel pretty passionate about this topic and I have been concerned for years, so please bear with me as I elaborate on a true injustice in our annual Christmas celebrations: the presentation of Santa Claus in malls and other venues.
Last week Andi and I were in a local mall doing some shopping and we strolled by the Santa Claus meet-and-greet who was patiently waiting on a kid to show up. There were no kids and there was no line, primarily due to the impact of COVID. When I looked at Santa sitting there with no children, it brought to mind a personal multi-year struggle that was now being amplified by the pandemic of 2020. I got Santa’s attention and gave him a big thumbs up. He waved at me and seemed thankful that someone was recognizing the fact that a living legend was sitting in the middle of Fayette Mall.
What struggle am I referring to? Simply this – Santa Claus is too big, too famous, too important, too legendary, and too essential to be sitting in plain view of anyone and everyone who walks by. And this is the way every mall and every department store presents Santa – he’s just…..there.
The presentation of Santa around our great country needs to learn and thing or two from Disney World. Here’s the deal – you don’t see Mickey Mouse just sitting around in the middle of Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom. No. Mickey Mouse is too big. To see Mickey, it is an experience. You have to get to the right location, then enter a building, then follow a line that will lead you around corners, corridors, and multiple rooms. All the while, there is music, photos, video, and anticipation galore.
You see, by making you turn the corner only to see another room between you and Mickey, it makes the eventual sighting of Mickey much more effective and important. By the time kids finally reach Mickey, they are flipping out (including older kids, say around 44 years old). Once you do reach Mickey, it is just you and him. No more line. No more people. Disney cast members shut the doors and it is just you and the legendary mouse. You become the center of the world. It is…well…magical. Just like Disney advertises.
Is there anyone bigger than Mickey Mouse? Yes, as a matter of fact there is. His name is Santa Claus. So surely getting to Santa Claus is going to be an experience to remember, right? No. He’s just sitting there, in the open, for all to see, and it’s not right.
Now, I know, I know. Don’t get all practical on me and tell me why I’m wrong on this (I’m not). I know that malls don’t have the room or the budget that can compete with Disney World. I know that by putting Santa in plain sight they might drum up more business. And so forth.
But phooey on that. If you are going to take on the responsibility of having children meet the guy who gets toys to every child in the world in one night, then you need to do it right. Here is a very basic list of essential Santa Claus meet-and-greet requirements:
- The selection of Santa himself is, of course, of paramount importance. You can’t just grab any employee who is willing to put on a fake beard. Specialized training is essential. This organization is an example of many that takes Santa training seriously.
- Santa is going to have a crew. Apart from the photographer who is busy snapping the photos and getting the perfect pose, Santa needs at least two themed characters (elves perhaps) who are adding to the ambiance and ready to make the experience feel authentic.
- Build-up. Hype. Anticipation. Upon entering the queue to see Santa, a worker (perhaps one of the aforementioned elves) needs to give a mini-speech on the amazement of what is about to happen. The worker needs to come across as overwhelmed that he or she even gets to work for Santa, and they need to express that excitement towards the children.
- Piggy-backing on point 3 – while Santa is “open” and sitting on his Santa chair, all employees must – absolutely must – understand him to be the real Santa and treat him that way. It is no longer John Smith in a Santa costume. That is Santa. And it is nothing short of incredible that he is sitting only a few feet from them.
- The children must not see Santa until it is their turn to see Santa. The previous child and family should have already been escorted away from Santa so that when the next child enters Santa’s room, it is only them and Santa. This will require some intentionality with set up and decorating, but it can be done effectively without too much additional cost. This step is so fundamentally important that without it, the whole experience will fall short of what it could have been.
I have many, many more ideas on a proper Santa meet-and-greet. If you are interested in investing in the greatest Santa meet-and-greet in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, let me know. I’ll be happy to get on board with you. To all the locations that take the Santa meeting experience seriously, thank you. We see you and appreciate you. For all the rest – time to step it up.