In the day when I was a child no respectable department store was without a Santa. That said, I recall that several stores in town did not have Santas. I guess maybe they pooled their efforts and decided where Santa would be stationed.
There was a furniture store that had Santa. You had to wander through Graf's to find him, but he was there. Then, there was a Santa in the toy department at J. C. Penney's. One Christmas I spotted a big teddy bear in their display. He was brown with a white front that had the alphabet printed on it. I looked at that teddy bear until he finally disappeared. On Christmas morning I was surprised and pleased that teddy bear was underneath my tree.
My mother and I used to ride the train to Buffalo to Christmas shop. Once we disembarked we took the trolley uptown. All of the big department stores had Santa. I remember the department being very busy. You often had to stand in line a while before you got up to the joy old gentleman. The stores gave away games to the children who visited Santa. I thought that was wonderful. I remember getting a Chinese checker game one year. I could hardly wait to open it, but I waited until I got home since my mother informed me there were marbles inside which might get lost.
I was not content to just visit one Santa. We visited all of them. Oh the patience that my mother must have had! She let me have my share of entertainment even though we had just a short time to shop. We mailed our purchases home thus avoiding the local sales tax. It also helped because then we did not have a lot of packages to carry.
While I was in college I had a part-time job in a store in the plaza. That store had a Santa at Christmas. He was rotund and very jolly. The children just loved him. Personally, I knew that he was really a young Jewish boy who went to the same college I did! Oh well, when you are in college you do whatever you can to supplement your income.
When I married and moved to the farm we began visiting the Santa Claus at Sears in Jamestown. I remember this particular Santa because he was very good with young children. My children were toddlers at the time. One Christmas my mother-in-law and I took the children to see Santa. When Santa asked my son what he wanted for Christmas, he told him he wanted a book. Santa asked if there was any special book he wanted, but he said any book would do. That was all he asked for. Santa told him he thought that order could be filled. My daughter was young so she just smiled at Santa and clutched her candy cane. What a nice Santa he was! He reminded the children about the real meaning of Christmas, too. I do not remember any of the Santas in my day doing that. Maybe it was because this area is very country oriented and Jamestown was a small town.
When the mall opened there was just one Santa out in the middle. Everyone has figured out how to add value to events. That is when they began taking pictures of Santa and selling them. Up until that time we took our own pictures. Somehow for me that ruined the whole thing. Couldn't the stores just give away something to the children? After all, the parents came shopping to indulge the children. In my mind they were not losing anything. It could not have cost each store much to pay the wages of the Santa during the Christmas season.
The grandchildren have different memories. They tried the mall Santa, but that was not satisfactory. When the little store on the corner in Akeley began having Santa, that was the place of choice. One Saturday during December Santa was in residence there. That made it easy on the parents they only had to go down to the corner. The owner took Polaroid pictures to give each child. That is one of the memories I treasure. That Santa was very good. He also stressed the real meaning of Christmas.
I do not remember seeing a Santa at the mall this year, but maybe that is because of the time that I shop. If they do not have one, they are missing out because parents will go somewhere to let the children talk to Santa.
While we were in New York City we were up on the floor where Macy's had Santa. They create a magical land for people to walk through. One year when the ladies and I visited the city we all walked through to see Santa. One grandma had told her grandchildren that she would see Santa. We took some pictures for her so she could prove that she saw Santa. They were very nice to us. Although they took photos to sell they even helped us take our own.
Some of things that we associate with Christmas have gone by the wayside. That is sad. After all, Christmas is a season of giving. Even without a lot of money, there are things that can be given. Last night our church family went Christmas caroling. I especially like that it is cross generational. It is good for the children to see the adults having fun and giving of themselves. Every place we went we were welcomed. Some of the people even joined us in song.
It was a little thing, but it was a gift that will not soon be forgotten.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org