By Laura McMillan
His big green chair makes him seem a king, and the gigantic holiday teddy bear behind him reminds everyone that his kingdom is Christmas. Santa Claus watches as the line of kids waiting to see him snakes back into the mall.
Everywhere there are signs of people bustling about at Southlake Mall whose parking lot is packed. Stores are decorated with a rainbow of Yuletide colors in festive trees, assorted items and wonderful things to smell and eat. People are moving from store to store with packages and those wrapping presents are kept busy. But for kids from across Clayton County, it is that soft lap that is the only destination they see as they have their turn at telling Santa what they want and lobbying for a few extra things.
Each day has dragged into another as the kids counted the days until Christmas arrives.
Billy Lord agreed whole-heartedly to clean his room so that Santa would bring him a choo-choo train. Many others simply nodded "yes" emphatically when asked if they had been good little girls and boys.
As a last tactic to win over the ultimate gift giver, several of the children indicated that there would be sweet treats for Santa at the end of the chimney. Seven-year-old Austin Jackson set himself apart from the competition. His aunt, Karen Wimbush said, "Santa likes us because we give German chocolate cake."
Watching St. Nick in his shiny red suit with the children on his ample lap for only a few minutes is all it takes to understand why mothers like Valerie Swyryn believe, "He is the epitome of Santa."
Santa can handle every situation from a tiny crying infant to a four-year-old asking for a dirt bike. He revealed a few of his basic techniques in avoiding any unnecessary promises that will lead to Christmas morning disappointments.
Rather than guaranteeing every child exactly what he or she asks for, Santa does a little festive evasive maneuver. In an effort to keep things as pleasant as possible Santa says he "steers them off the subject because so many kids do get hurt."
Southlake's Santa also realizes that not all the families who come to see him can afford to furnish the lavish material dreams of their children.
Many of the children who see Santa know what they can have, how to ask for it, and what Santa wants to hear this time of year.
Before he gets to those specific questions, Santa always makes sure to say to each boy a girl a boisterous "Hey buddy!" That is the beginning of the jolly ritual. Following the merry greeting, Santa of course asks what everyone wants for Christmas.
Some, like Randy Marks, are brazen enough to just shout out, "Game!" while others like his sister, Raina Marks, just twirl and dance around to visually indicate, "Ballerina."
No one was as prepared as Kendra Johnson to answer Santa's big question. She was obviously at ease with the big guy in red because her wish list included but was not limited to new games, rollerblades and a bike.
The real challenge came when Santa's helpers tries to snap a picture. Some kids did not know what to think about the whole situation while others just did not know where to look.
The kids do at least have to be close to Santa for the picture, but that was difficult for Omari and Akira Greene who were scared to touch the big bright Christmas icon.
In the case of Loren and Page Sullivan, only a few minor adjustments to pretty red velvet dresses were required before taking the picture that is so special to their mother who said, "It's a big deal. We keep [the picture] up all year in a special frame."
Santa uses lots of tactics to make the less cooperative little ones focus on the camera, but parents are often just looking for a festive picture of Mr. Claus and their own little elf, even if he or she is not being very cooperative in sitting still.
Santa's ultimate goal is to make every experience a joyous one, he says in a brief interview during his break. Even as he takes a few minutes off, kids still sheepishly approach him and the Jolly Elf always has a few moments for them. He does not claim his job is easy saying, "It's fun, it really is, but it's tiring." But with a jovial demeanor, lots of compliments to each girl and boy, and genuine Santa love, he makes it look effortless.
At the end of each visit Santa gives a preliminary Christmas gift: a Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer CD. The kids all walk away happy with a little something to remind them of their visit with Santa Claus.
Santa simply says, "I just try to treat every child the same." To him, that equal opportunity affection is the important thing this and every time of the year. The only other really crucial part of his job is that the milk and cookies are ready for him when break time rolls around.