Santa at the King of Prussia Mall: A Chance to Sit with the Head Honcho-ho-ho
It's a belly laugh that is launched with a hearty bounce from his diaphragm and echoes easily above the piped-in holiday music. Given its vigor, it's quite likely you'll hear its owner before you actually see him.
But once you do spot him, there's no mistaking the gnome behind the giggle: red suit, white beard, twinkly eyes, broad smile and a belt buckle that spells out his name in brass. Given its size, the clasp could well double as the grillwork on the front of a '68 Pontiac.
Santa is back in town.
Your youngster is never far from the opportunity to visit with The Jolly One at the King of Prussia Mall, given his magical ability to appear at both the Bloomingdale and Nordstrom courtyards (not to mention the malls at Willow Grove, Plymouth Meeting, Suburban Square and Montgomeryville). Despite what lines may exist, however, Santa takes great care to ensure that every encounter is memorable.
He is so earnest as seasonal magic-maker that he's not even consciously aware of the volumes of children he sees. "Well, you know, Santa's not a bean counter," he responds with a smile that crinkles the crow's feet around his eyes. But his demeanor then turns more heartfelt: "When a child comes to see me, that child is special, and I'll never think of that child in terms of a number. It's my job to make that Santa experience as best as I can make it. I want to see the light in their eyes and the joy in their faces. When that happens, that's my paycheck. Numbers would make it less important."
He does, however, notice that the pace will pick up in the after-Thanksgiving fervor. "The closer it gets to Christmas, the busier I will be. We all have a tendency to procrastinate. Even Santa. Except when it comes to mealtime!" The bass-drum of laughter begins to roll again. "I never met a meal I didn't like. Ho-ho-ho-ho!"
For parents interested in capturing the best pictures of their youngsters whispering in Santa's ear, there are some practical suggestions from Mr. Kringle himself: "Infants are brought in and naturally they're asleep. But parents wake up the child for his or her visit with me, and the child will sometimes get cranky and cry. So I recommend letting the baby sleep. And I hold the baby, and I pretend to be asleep, too." Santa rests his head on his shoulders, and it's not hard to imagine him taking a long winter's nap. "It makes a great picture and people love it," he grins, lifting his head.
Older children may be fearful, and Santa relies on parental attentiveness to calm their unease. Once a child is old enough to enjoy the experience, Santa finds the encounters extremely rewarding. "I have had parents - especially moms -after I'm done talking with the child, I look over and the mom's crying. And she says, ‘My daughter has been afraid to see you for the past three or four years, and I don't know what it is different this year, but she came right up to you and hugged you.'"
But there is a learning curve to being the North Pole's most famous ambassador. "I don't wear a hat in the mall," Santa explains. "And the reason I don't wear a hat is that I found out by accident, one year, trying to get a two-year-old on my lap. I was trying to help them, and the child was upset and crying, and in the process, the hat fell off. Kid stops crying. Sits on my lap. Takes a picture."
He continues: "So I think with the little ones, sometimes they don't think that's a hat; they think that's some kind of scary tube coming out of my head or something. So now, without the red cap, I look more normal, like a pop-pop."
Santa may still be sporting his 18th century duds, but he's definitely managing his job in a modern-day world. He Facebooks and uses a smart phone, but hasn't quite mastered the art of the tweet as of yet. That official Naughty/Nice List? It's electronic these days.
And in a conspiratorial tone, he confides one more a little-known secret: "There's a third list. And nobody really knows about it. It's called: The Best List. And I tell kids who I suspect might be a little down, a little in need of a boost, who may have a little bit of a poor self-image, that they're on it. It uplifts their spirits. I tell them, ‘There might be 20 kids in the whole state of Pennsylvania that are on this list, honey. And you're one of them. You're one of the best.'"
Santa is available for lap-sitting, list-receiving and secret-sharing seven days a week until December 24, Christmas Eve, when he must depart on official business.
It is indeed true that Santa sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake. If you want him to peek in on your slumber as you're tucked into a bed in one of Montgomery County's fine accommodations, see our list of recommendations here.