Stanley Park Christmas Train, Vancouver BC

If the expression Mall-Santaphobia hasn’t already been coined it should be. I’ll take the credit for it if no else wants to. Mall-Santaphobia is best defined as a toddler’s extreme displeasure (soon turning to outright fear) of being dressed up in Christmas best, forced to wait in line forever and then plopped onto Santa’s knee in the centre of the local mall only to see mom backing away, saying, “Smile,” with an odd manic look on her face.

I confess to having never witnessed Mall-Santaphobia when my own kids were little and the explanation is a fairly simply one. There was no mall. And even if there had been one, I’m sure we would have raised our eyebrows in disbelief if anyone had suggested we wait in line and pay a significant portion of money to have the kids get a picture taken on Santa’s knee. Now, lest you think I raised my kids in the dark ages – not so. The times they have been a changing and that change has occurred quickly. Parenting today is a whole new ball game.

As soon as my granddaughter Emma was old enough to walk and scream the word NO, she developed a severe case of Mall-Santaphobia. Even the most distant tinkle of a sleigh bell or a jolly but faint HO-HO-HO, would cause her eyes to narrow and her little feet to dig into the ground as she began a steadily rising litany of no, no, NO.

In Emma’s case this condition generalized to include all life-size dressed-up characters, mascots and even clowns. I won’t describe the scene that occurred one Canada Day when a clown walked up to her and offered her a balloon. Suffice to say the clown moved on pretty darn fast.

But, back to the issue of Santa and the annual trek to the Mall for the all-important Christmas photo. Many parents place a high value on this event. My daughter happens to be one of those parents. Having a child with Mall-Santaphobia definitely throws a wrench into her well-laid plans.

DSC03340One year, I agreed to be part of a campaign that can only be described as serious desensitization training in order to facilitate that photo op. Emma and I took multiple trips to the mall, wandering all around Santa’s Workshop when Santa wasn’t there, getting closer and closer when he was. And I don’t want to confess the number of times we watched the Dora Christmas DVD with me emphasizing what a great guy Santa seemed to be and saying, “Look how much Dora likes Santa, Emma.” I was pretty sure that if she ever got close to Santa she was sure to say, “Ola, Santa. Feliz Navidad!” The outcome was somewhat of a success. That year, Emma agreed to stand by Santa and have her picture taken.

Emma & Brit with Santa 2011


Time went by and time makes a big difference in a young child’s life. Emma assured all of us that she had no problem with getting on Santa’s knee. Her younger sister Brit was only four months old and, being too young to raise an objection, she joined in for the fun. It was to be the beginning of a beautiful tradition of Christmas Santa photos. The sisters would wear  matching holiday outfits and be oh-so-cute.



Of course no one anticipated that Brit would come down with a case of Mall-Santaphobia. If Emma was going to be doing something we all thought it was a sure bet that Brit would be close behind her. Most days it seems she would follow her big sister into a lion’s den without a second thought. But along came Christmas 2012 and we discovered that  she clearly drew the line at Mall Santa’s cosy workshop.


Waiting in the line-up was all well and good.


Emma handled the whole thing with style. But Brit had to be dragged like a lamb to the slaughter. As you can tell – not a happy camper. Is that a hand held out in a begging plea for mercy?


If you look carefully inside the fake plant you will see Grandpa Bruce with his camera.P1060034As we approached Santa’s workshop with the kids he was told he had to put his camera away. Well – saying something like that to a photographer is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. He was having none of it.

Fast-forward another year – December 2013. The dresses were even cuter this year. This photo was taken right before they left for the mall.

Emma and Brit dressed for Santa

Emma managed the whole event, yet again, with style.

Emma and Santa 2013

Unfortunately the trip ended worse than the year before for Brit – fancy red dress shoes skidding backwards across the shining tiles, her blond curls waving wildly as she shook her head and declared, “No Santa, no Santa, no Santa.” Suffice to say, she is too big now to be forced onto Santa’s knee against her will.

When I heard the sad news – no picture of Brit with Santa this year at all – I took a sympathetic tone and commiserated about the loss of what would most certainly have been the cutest photo yet. But inside me there was a part that rejoiced at this independent granddaughter who followed in her older sister’s footsteps and refused to be handed off to jolly old St. Nick. I know that next year they will appear, beautifully dressed, on Santa’s knee with big smiles on their faces. Mall-Santaphobia is a passing phase. But for now, I say – let’s hear it for the independent thinkers. All you little Mall-Santaphobics rock.

11 comments on “Mall-Santaphobia

  1. smilecalm says:

    the black and white photo
    my brother and me
    sitting on santa’s knee
    him screaming
    me wriggling free
    after half a century
    the image a sight to see
    I can smile to it now,
    thankfully 🙂

  2. Roy McCarthy says:

    Lovely photos of the girls Francis, reluctant or not. Much as I regard the whole festive season with disdain these days I can still think back 50+ years, queuing for hours on the stairs of a Birmingham department store to see Santa and his elves and receive a gift 🙂

  3. I’ve seen children with faces as red as Santa’s suit, screaming in fear as the parent tries to take a picture…so wrong. Boy, Emma looks just like you in the photo standing next to Santa. I love Brit’s red shoes!

  4. Gemma Hawdon says:

    Whoever decided clowns would be a good form of children’s entertainment? They scare even me 😉

  5. P. C. Zick says:

    Beautiful photos and fun post. My daughter suffered some of the same phobias. I never have been comfortable with disguises–clowns, Santa, etc. I’ve been told when I was a toddler, my dad appeared in a play as dear Abe Lincoln. They said I screamed for hours when I saw him in the beard. We shouldn’t force things on our children when they clearly tell us it’s not all right!

    • I can only imagine the horror of seeing one’s father in an Abe Lincoln beard when he generally did not sport such a look. Small children are not cognitively able to deal with such shenanigans. At a recent Christmas Parade, Brit witnessed the Royal Bank Leo the Lion take his costume head off. Whew – that was quite the scene. No wonder all those Disney characters at Disneyland would be fired if they let thode costume slip an inch.

      • P. C. Zick says:

        That would scare me, too. Even now. Recently while in Mexico City, I sat in a park and watched a clown make twisty balloons into things. I watched the faces of the children very carefully. The older ones–perhaps 6 and above–were delighted. The toddlers were pushed forward toward the clown with face expressions ranged from horrified to “what the heck is that?” looks. I believe it’s best not to force those things on young ‘uns. They’re much more intuitive than adults know.

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