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?

114 thoughts on “Creeped Out by Santa

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    1. 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!


  1. 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 🙂


  2. 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!


    1. 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!


    1. 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!


  3. 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. 😉


  4. 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!


  5. 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!


  6. 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.


    1. 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…. 🙂


    1. 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!


  7. 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.


    1. 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!


    1. I know! In our neighborhood they would take turns in going to each child’s house dressed in that plastic suit to deliver a mesh stocking filled with candy. They probably still do!


  8. 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!


  9. 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,


    1. 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!


  10. 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 🙂


    1. 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… 🙂


  11. 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.


    1. 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!


  12. 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!


    1. 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!


  13. 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.)


    1. Sorry about that Mary! I mean, Yes there is a Santa Claus. Really! 🙂
      So true about the adults. I think times were simpler with lower expectations and less commercialized.
      I always worried about being “on the spot.” It was never my thing!
      Thanks for stopping by Mary and have a fabulous Christmas season!


  14. 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!


    1. 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!


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