I stepped off the escalator in apprehension. I was at the entrance of Macy’s SantaLand. I was steps away from the hallowed holiday tradition of visiting the head honcho of the North Pole. I knew that if I crossed that threshold, there would a fundamental shift in the cosmos. I was a Santa virgin.
I had come to SantaLand in search of something that I had never experienced before. My parents had never taken me to visit Santa; I never had the joy of confiding my cherished Christmas gift wishes. Given that I am Jewish, I’ll forgive my parents for this injustice. Nevertheless, I felt that I had been denied a significant cultural experience.
I approached the entrance, where an elf cheerily beckoned passersby to “Come see Santa. There’s no line.” Apparently, SantaLand was not busy on weekdays. It was a Wednesday at 1:40 p.m.
I felt cheated. I had heard horror stories of waiting forever on the absurdly long line, of children screaming and crying, of the boredom and misery that must precede the joy of meeting Santa. I wanted my first time to be perfect, the quintessential Santa experience. I guess meeting Santa for the first time in your 20s is much like waiting to have sex until marriage: the longer you wait, the more you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
Imagine if the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney Land went on a road trip and took a wrong turn north; trees with anthropomorphized faces and tiny bears helplessly swaying to and fro to Christmas songs amidst an overabundance of fake snow. Such is the spectacle of SantaLand.
Waiting in line, I was puzzled by the prevalence of old people. They presumably had learned decades ago that – ***UMMM…SPOILER ALERT?*** – Santa is not real. I suppose I had assumed that, like hanging out at the mall, after a certain age, it’s just tragic. I thought visiting Santa was reserved for parents who made their young children cry by forcing them to sit on the lap of a strange fat man for the family Christmas card.
While I had never personally experienced the joy of Santa, I had viewed many a Christmas-themed movie. I wondered what temperament of Santa I would encounter. I secretly hoped for the caustic, foul-mouthed Billy Bob Thornton Santa of Bad Santa. But given that I was at Macy’s SantaLand, I suspected that I would meet a Santa stone-faced committed to his Santa-ness.
A mere 20 minutes later, I found myself at the gateway to Santa’s village. Party of one; was the greeter elf judging me? I was uncomfortable enough at the idea of sitting on an old man’s lap. This is exactly the sort of behavior that I normally try to avoid when I go out to bars.
An elf named Munchkin led me to one of many Santa houses. Armed with my reporter’s notebook, I asked if I could interview Santa. A manager, Jeff, delivered the unfortunate news that I would have to arrange in advance to interview Santa. I was disappointed, but not surprised: even Santa has PR people.
I still had yet to sit on Santa’s lap. I reentered SantaLand, where the line was still disappointingly short. It took me 10 minutes to arrive once again at the gateway to Santa’s village.
An elf named Icicle took me to a different Santa house and asked me if I had been good this year.
“Does this face look like it could do anything bad?” I asked.
I asked her how long she had been working for Santa. She replied that she’s always working in the North Pole. I felt a little sad for her commitment to the elf persona.
Santa invited me to sit on his lap. I wondered how many others had been already today. I knew I wasn’t special but Santa was determined to make me feel so.
Santa asked me what I wanted. I had prepared for this query.
“It depends. What’s more viable – world peace or peace in the Middle East?” I asked.
Santa replied, “Both are kind of good, but Santa is so happy that you didn’t ask for some material thing like a Mercedes Benz or a necklace, something that Santa can’t always promise.”
He then launched into a rehearsed monologue about how Santa would always love me and bless me with peace, love, health and happiness. It only lasted 15 seconds, but I have never felt more uncomfortable in my life. How this man could recite this saccharine speech with a straight face to innumerable masses, young and old, day in and day out, simply amazed me.
I waited in line and purchased my photo with Santa. And then, having impressed Santa with my non-materialistic, humanitarian Christmas wish, I went off to peruse the Macy’s sales.