Creeped Out by Santa

creepy santas 1Do I look terrified or what? My sister escaped!

Let me start out by clarifying that I love the idea of Santa Claus as the embodiment of joy and generosity for children around the world. But it was the department store Santa with the nasty cigarette and coffee breath I endured for the sake of the obligatory traditional McCartan photo every Christmas.

After dressing my sister Patty and me in our matching outfits and itchy scratchy tights, my mother drove us to Gimbel’s Department Store. While gripping my mom’s hand, my little dimpled one perspired as we joined the line waiting to sit on the Big Guy’s lap.

“Tell Santa what you want for Christmas,” she reminded us. I studied some of the children with eyes as big as saucers. Others wailed while squirming away from the Mythic Man as the lights flashed from the camera set up not far away. Overwhelmed by performance anxiety, I worried that once it was my turn I would forget to say, “A Chatty Cathy doll.

Being born gullible, I believed in everything magical longer than my friends. I guessed that since we didn’t have a chimney, Santa blasted through our heating vents. The year we didn’t have snow, he was smart enough to put roller skates on the sleigh and reindeer. But there were several things about this Santa that didn’t add up. How did he have time to sit for hours? Wasn’t this his busiest time of year? Why did I have to tell him what I wanted for Christmas? I had already written a two page list. There were Santas in other locations and none of them looked alike. Some were short and fat and others were tall and thin. The one that came to our door looked a lot like our neighbor Mr. Ripple and his suit was plastic!

plastic santaMany years ago, my husband Danny wore the plastic suit. The hole in the beard doesn’t even line up with his mouth! 

This was all so very strange. We never sat in any adult male’s lap other than my dad’s. The proximity and intimacy would have been unacceptable. So why did we have to sit on Santa’s hot and overstuffed one every year?

It was our turn. With trepidation and a slight push by my mother, I stepped forward. While glancing over at my little sister, I could see the terror along with tears welling up in her eyes. I had to be brave. As we neared Santa, my heart pounded and I realized how big he was. He was like a human stop sign! His long curly white hair tumbling down past his shoulders and beard that rested on his gross protruding belly looked foreign compared to the men of that era who sported crew cuts.

It was show time. I was lifted onto his knee, but with my bony rear end, I slipped off. His big hand drew me in close and I could feel heat emanating from his body and smell the stink of his breath.

Finally the all-important question was asked. “What do you want for Christmas little girl?” I could see that although his lips moved, his beard remained independent. Obviously a clean-shaven stranger lay underneath. Patty wouldn’t have anything to do with him and started screaming and pulled away. I gawked at her in horror. Would she get what she wanted for Christmas?

The picture was snapped and I was released from Santa’s firm grip. I scurried back to my mother and sobbing sister. Did I even tell him what I wanted? Even with my mother’s assurance, I stressed out about it until Christmas. Weeks later, I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered Chatty Cathy under the tinseled Christmas tree.

creepy santas1Really? I must be in the freakin’ fifth grade!

I went through the same process with my own children. It was my daughter Courtney that would have nothing of to do with him while her older brother Kelly stoically sat on his lap.

kids and santa

I am trying to keep Courtney on Santa’s lap while she is momentarily distracted by a stuffed bear.

Now I look back on those pictures and smile knowing that the McCartan tradition lived on. Perhaps one day in the future Kelly and Courtney will make their own children endure the creepy shopping mall Santa.

Were you ever creeped out by Santa?

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Filed under Humor, Life, Photography

114 responses to “Creeped Out by Santa

  1. Thanks Susie! I love the plastic suit. Where do you get those? And I am sure Kelly and Courtney will have their day of fun as well. Save all these pictures! Our kids are pretty freaked out by the pseudo Santas too, although my 2 year old will talk to him. This year they had to be bribed with Disney snow globes. Have a Merry one Susie with your clan this Holiday.

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  3. There is a picture of me somewhere screaming bloody murder while I was on Santa’s lap. Isn’t it strange how children react so negatively to the man who brings us presents? :)

  4. I’ll bet you are still sitting on Santa’s lap… even if the suit is plastic.

  5. I had exactly the same experience. I don’t remember where Santa was, but it may have been Macy’s. The whole experience was traumatizing. Luckily, I don’t have photos.

    Great post, Susie.

    • Thank you! I just remember my sister freaking out every year and my mom’s persistence in wanting that perfect holiday photo. I looks like she had to wait until Patty was in the 2nd or 3rd grade and I was in 4th or 5th! Hahaha!

  6. Anonymous

    What a great Christmas Story!

  7. These photos are hilarious! The first one is my favorite :) Funny post :)

  8. Love the pics! I’ve always loved Santa, and so has my daughter. When my son was two, though, he kicked the poor mall Santa in his jingle bells.

    • I believe he was tall enough to do that too! Hahaha!
      Thanks Piper. It was fun looking for them. I never studied these when my mom gave them to me. I can’t believe how old I was in that last photo of Patty and me!

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  10. First, I traveled around from one site to another, beginning with your “Chatty Cathy” site (above). I ended up reading which was wonderfully informative.
    Back to your post – when I was little my Dad in an exuberant effort to get us to sleep early, would put on his army shoes, climb outside on the roof, and ring huge sleigh bells that he had bought. It would always frighten us enough to go to sleep and not be up when Santa arrived later.

  11. I too endured the Scary Mall Santa and the Easter Bunny too. The picture of Santa I am looking at has me on yellow and several different shades of brown plaid pants with a red pinstripe and a dark brown turtle neck and along with me was my screaming sister also named Patty,,,hmm maybe its a Patty thing???


  13. I laugh and smile real big every time I come over here a read. You have just stirred new thoughts for my “Memories of.. ” series. Thanks Suzie.

  14. Wow. That is so cool that you remember all of that! And it just now hit me that I don’t have a single, solitary memory of ever going to see Santa in a department store. I’m sure we must have though. I’m going to have to ask my siblings if they remember going. Hmm. Kind of weird, but then so am I. :)

    • We are all weirdos and I am the Queen! Hahaha! I remember going since my mom made it such a big deal. And look at how old I was in that last picture! God! I must have been towering over all the three-year-olds! Hahaha!
      Thanks Kristy! It may all come back to you after talking to them or not. :) We do like to block out the traumas in our lives… Ha!

  15. That Santa was probably the best anti-smoking message ever. As far as Danny is concerned, he’s too good looking to be a mall Santa. Sorry but, he’s just gonna have to hold onto his day job.
    And yes, Santa scares the hell out of me EVERY year when the credit card bills come due and my calls to him go straight to voicemail!

    • Hahaha! You are so funny. I didn’t even recognize Danny in that suit at first. Dang. Santa never answers my calls either!
      Thanks Cayman and have the happiest of holidays!

  16. This is such a wonderful post. My sister and I were put throughout the same torture. I’m referring to those scratchy tights of course. As far as Santa went we were both willing participants. My son screamed his little head off, while my daughter sat diligently with the big guy. I put their photos out every year!

  17. I recall having to share time in a Santa suit at Sears Roebuck in 1978. I worked in the warehouse which was already sweaty. Then I had to put on that suit. I am sure I creeped out more than was creeped by.

    • Hahaha! How great that you were Santa!
      When my son was 18, he put on the suit for the Denver Santa Claus Shop fundraiser at a Rockies Game in July. It was 90 degrees, but he had so much and wore it the whole game!
      Thanks for coming by EW!

  18. Thanks for the great photos. You made my an old Grinch’s day.

  19. OMG! Fabulous topic. I don’t recall any of my personal experiences, but my daughter would cry so hard my husband and I would have to get in the picture to calm her. She’s scream at Disneyland, too, if one of the characters got too close. The Chuck E. Cheese mouse made her pee her pants once. So not cool. My son cried so hard over Santa one year that when we went to lunch immediately afterwards he fell asleep face first in his food, so tuckered out from all that screaming. Man, I wish I had that on video. I know, evil. Several years ago we took my son to this historical town to see the lights and Santa. Santa wasn’t where he was supposed to be. I found him around the back of the building with his flask. NICE. Santa didn’t smell so pretty. And he was in my son’s face, “What do you want for Christmas, kid?” LOL

    • Oh my gosh! This is exactly what I am talking about! I think it is traumatizing. How weird is it that children look so forward to Santa’s visit, but don’t want to see him up close and personal. I think they realize deep down that it is a stranger!
      I bet that your video would have gone viral especially if you captured him freaking moments before!
      Thanks Debra for chiming in!

  20. Great story and wonderful photos. It conjured enormous memories for me. Thanks for sharing this!

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  22. Excellent work, Susie! Who can’t relate to this one? Everyone has a Santa horror story…

  23. Sam Ryan

    Seriously festive post, Susie; adorable pics, may you and yours have the best Christmas ever.

  24. Brilliant. That photo at the top of the blog is priceless. Neither of my daughters would sit on Santa’s lap. When my youngest was 3 she kicked a department store Santa in the shins and ran – and that was the end of that. GREAT post Susie.

    • Thanks so much Colin! I never had really looked at that photo before and it never occurred to me that my sister wasn’t in the photo. :)
      Kicked in the shins? Hilarious! That sounds like something in a movie. Hahaha! Was she always a pistol or was it a random event?

  25. Wonderful post and, like you, I held on to magic as long as possible. Re Santa, I have no photos of Ming on Santa’s knee because he just refused – so funny!

    • I loved anything magical… I still do!
      It looks to me from the comments that I got, that there was at least one in each family. Ming is an only so he had no other sibling to give him any support or to be brave for!
      Thanks Julie!

  26. I’m so glad I didn’t go see the mall Santa. He came to our church dinner every year. I made all my children sit on his lap and they are now making their children. LOL

  27. Aw. What cute photos!!! I always had that sneaking suspicion too that that man in the suit was not all he was supposed to be. The real one would be far too busy making toys of course!! ;)

  28. Wait – you mean magical things DON’T exist??? Oh, man . . . way to kill my Christmas, Susie! ;-)

    Actually, I liked the pretend Santa when I was a kid. I tried not to think too hard about whether he was real or not, as long as I got what I asked for. And I noticed that all the adults were a lot cheerier at that time of year, so it was all good. I do find it ironic that you worried about forgetting/not telling Santa you wanted a CHATTY Cathy doll! (My sister got one.)

  29. Santa never creeped my out – my brother would be bawling with the tears flowing. What creeps me out is the elves! Have a Great One:)

  30. Hahahaha! Funny as heck, Susie, and I love those photos. Ew, cigarette and coffee breath? Yuck! I have no recollection of ever going to see Santa at the store. I guess my mom was too busy to take all five of us. Who knows? I remember my Chatty Kathy doll being one of my favorite toys as a child. I brought her on the plane ride when we moved from Pittsburgh to SoCal at age 8. Cool doll, huh? Those photos are great! Cutie pie little Susie!

    • Thanks Lynn! Great to see you!
      I don’t think the Store Santa was for everyone. It was always a pretty time consuming affair as I recall.
      I loved my Chatty Cathy doll and my mom has it in her collection at home or I would have included a picture of her. I had so much fun going through all the photos yesterday. It would be so much easier if I had them in albums…. Like one of your gorgeous albums!

  31. Being weight challenged and prone to early graying, I had a full white beard and the required girth so when I was approached by a mall employee many Novembers past to be Santa I was flattered. Then came the fact that as a child, until thirteen, I was freaked out by disguised characters. I declined and went to my barber and had the offending facial growth removed. It didn’t help. I’ve been on friend’s lists to play Santa at parties. I decline, though the prospect of young ladies sitting on my lap and telling me their Christmas wishes is interesting to say the least. But Santa getting pummeled by an irate boyfriend is an ugly thought.

    • Bad Santa! Hahaha! That is great Tom. Isn’t life always so complicated these days? I do vaguely remember a few masked Santas, but they were really creepy!
      You would probably be a great Santa. Maybe you should try it sometime!

  32. I have to say it…Danny’s “mouth” makes him look just a bit like “popeye”….

  33. mscool

    awesome pictures my dear friend ,,,

  34. Awesome post! That first photo is my favorite, what a cutie! I’m a bit nervous about tonight with a Santa going to Scouts. We already saw one at a christmas party last weekend. Weird! I dread to think what rubbish I’ll make up of Matthew asks me why there’s more than one :)
    Cute how you carroed on the tradition and funny about your sister screaming :)

    • Thanks Catherine!
      I think kids want to believe and make up their own reasons why the Santas are different. I wish I could have found the photo where my sister screamed and the picture snapped as she slipped off his lap… :)

  35. Hahaha! I can’t remember if I was ever terrified by Santa, but I’ve seen a few kids at the mall freaked out by him. Poor children! :-D

  36. I grew up on a farm before our town had a mall and escaped this whole holiday tradition. My dad was the family’s Santa (for the whole family – aunts/uncles/cousins/and grandma too). They tried to keep it from me but wily old super spy me one day found the suit in a box in the back of a closet. One more “well kept” secret bit the dust. I am the Santa for our grandkids but they only ever see a man in the distance with a red hat and jacket and hear jingle bells, and are excited to have seen and heard “the real Santa” because in the time that they are out looking for me all of the gifts are placed under the tree – and the obligatory cookies and milk are eaten and drank. That’s our tradition. Your post was a great reminder of Christmas “traditions” and was a real fun read, Susie.
    Best to ya,

    • Thanks Paul! It sounds like you are carrying on your family tradition with your own spin. I remember the milk and cookies too. My little ones have grown up, but we will still put them out for fun!

  37. Well, good for you for questioning the whole Santa and sitting on his lap and being terrified, taking pics w some tears, etc. They should have had a drop box for those kids and maybe just wave at him. One year my dad took us out to find Santa in the sky, ya know airplanes, and when we returned he had been to our house. That was very cool!

  38. Mr Ripple must have sweated buckets in that suit!

  39. Cute photos! My son was always petrified of the mall Santa. We would attempt to take him, but the second Santa came into view, he’d burst into tears and start shaking. Needless to say, I have zero photos of him with Santa.

    As for me, oh I have a story from my childhood. I should do a post about it, you’ll love it.

    • You should post about it! I would love to read it. :)
      I think I threw the Santa pictures in with the Christmas cards every year and could only find the one photo of the kids! Another had completely faded. And how much did I pay? Sheesh the ones from the 1960’s are in tact!
      Thanks so much Darla!

  40. Your pics are treasured memories. At least your kid’s Santa brushed his teeth LOL :)

    • Thank you. They really are treasured.
      I think he did brush them! :)
      Courtney was very particular about who could hold her when she was little, so the Santa thing was always a battle. I couldn’t find the photo of her screaming to get off his lap. I will probably find it in June… Thanks for stopping by!

  41. I remember kids like you dreading having to sit on Santa’s lap. I didn’t see what was the big deal. My mother wanted the picture and I wanted the tasty mint taffy candy. I saw it as a win-win. It never occurred to me that those kids were truly traumatized, but if any of the guys I sat on had dragon air breath, I didn’t notice. Considering my D-cup sized nose, coupled with my ability to smell the faintest of farts from three miles away, my guess is I sat on the laps of the guys that had the decency to swish with Scope. Sorry that this visit was annual misery for you and your sis, but look on the bright side, you got an entertaining post out of it 40-odd years later.

    • Hahaha! You are right! I can laugh now! I am glad you had Santas with good hygiene out west!
      I think I was one of those kids who had anxiety over being in the spotlight and often those Santas were up on thrones and a stage. Now I jump right up on stage and dance with the DJ like I did last weekend in Beaver Creek! Hey. He asked…. :)

  42. Anytime there was a Santa event I was always creeped out as a kid… I’m not sure that’s changed over the years either!

  43. As someone who doesn’t celebrate christmas, I never quite understood the “sitting on old mens laps” thing.

    On the other hand, Hannukah Harry makes a mean borscht!

  44. Oh my gosh! Love your expression! Soooo cute. And your husband as plastic Santa? Hilarious! I don’t remember being terrified, but then again, I had older brothers and a sister I had to keep up with. If they weren’t scared, I probably wasn’t either. Now, the Easter Bunny? That dude is creepy!

  45. My wife and I talked about this recently. It seems wrong to make a kid cry and freak out to sit on a stranger’s lap. I don’t remember ever doing this but then I have no memory these days. ;)

  46. I agree Santa is not the guy we read about and as I wrote.. he can really be working at the beer store in real life.
    Danny looks so funny.. Peace! :)

    • I didn’t even recognize him! Hahaha! :)
      Yep there can be some warm hearted Santas out there like the time my son wore the suit for a fund raiser, but the creepy ones lurk too….
      Thanks Linda!

  47. I was one of those kids who needed a push to go see Santa, and our daughter is the same way. A few years ago, I took our kids to see Santa, and we did some shopping afterward. The kids got all excited when they saw Santa walking through the mall – he must have been on his lunch break or something. They started waving as he approached, but he walked right by without acknowledging us or anyone else who waved at him! It’s not like his beard or hair hid his eyes – I knew he saw the kids, and they were pretty disappointed that Santa didn’t wave back. Thankfully, other Santas have been much better than this guy was!

    • Oh God. What a moron! You would think he’d realize his job and how that could effect kids.

      I couldn’t find the photo of my sister screaming while squirming off his lap. I have one of Courtney too. He is terrifying for some and I don’t think it helps that he is wearing red!

  48. Santa and Furbies, two things I always think of with a “You should be terrified of this, kid!”. I got out of sitting on Santa’s lap but I also never got that pony I so desperately wanted. It’s about compromise, I guess :)

  49. Holy hilarious. Great story telling. I never sat on Santa’s lap — and this actually makes me feel like I didn’t miss out. But the hilarious pictures. Lie sigh. Those are treasures. (Why is Kelly wearing a blue vest?) LOL!

    • Thanks so much Renee! You didn’t miss anything!

      You should see the clothes I dressed him up in. I found a photo yesterday that completely cracked me up. There used to be an amazing outlet for children’s clothes here in Boulder and they would make matching pants, vests, and hats. He isn’t wearing his. My favorite boy hat was the artist’s tam and I bought several big floppy brimmed ones for Courtney. They were like little dolls I could dress up!

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