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Santa Claus makes stops in Clayton, Henry counties

By Jaya Franklin and Curt Yeomans

jfranklin@henryherald.com

Santa Claus has made his way to Clayton and Henry counties for the holiday season.

He's visiting with people, ranging from three days old to 83 years old, at both Tanger Outlet Center in Locust Grove, and Southlake Mall in Morrow.

Boys and girls from all over the Southern Crescent area sit on Saint Nick's lap and read off a list of what they want for Christmas.

Occasionally, the requests for a live horse, or a real, full-sized Porsche come in to Santa, but the children are mainly asking for the same things.

"Most kids are saying that they want a Thomas the train, the Island Princess Barbie, guitars and four wheelers," said Santa, otherwise known as Dale McRee, 65, of Hampton.

"The older kids all want cell phones and laptops," said Tom Johnson, the name Southlake Mall's Santa uses after the holidays are over.

Southlake Mall will host "Breakfast with Santa" from 8-10 a.m., on Saturday. Tickets for the event can be purchased for $5 at the mall's carousel, on the morning of the breakfast. Local residents will also be able to bring their cats and dogs to the mall for pictures with Santa from 6-8 p.m., on Sunday.

Both Santas have their own reasons why they enjoy coming to the Southern Crescent from the North Pole every year.

"I really enjoy the well-mannered kids," said McRee. "My favorite thing about being Santa is the variety of people. I love the little folks and their parents," he said.

Johnson said he enjoys the environment at Southlake Mall. The Santa Land set at the mall includes spinning polar bears and penguins, tall Christmas trees, a light blue coach, and multicolored lights. There are also boxes above the set which are set to drop snow on Santa at 1-5 p.m., and 8 p.m., every day. As the snow falls, Johnson invites children to come on to the set and dance around.

"This is the best job I could have," Johnson said. "The atmosphere is like you're coming to a party every day."

When Santa is in the Southern Crescent, though, he gets asked a lot of questions from curious youths. "They usually ask me where are the reindeer, and where is Rudolph," said McRee.

On Friday, Johnson got a different question from a precocious 2-year old.

"Who does your hair?" asked Lakari Blair, of Jonesboro, as she stroked Santa's long, white beard.

"The lady at the beauty shop. Who does yours?" Johnson replied.

"My mommy," Blair answered.

Santa isn't just for the children, though. Both McRee and Johnson said adults like to come see the big man during the holidays as well.

"This is a sentimental time for some people," said McRee. "Sometimes, they [the adults] leave me notes. They just need someone to talk to," he added.

Johnson, on the other hand, was recently visited by an 83-year-old woman who wanted a picture to send to her grandchildren.

"I'll sometimes get adults who tell me they want a car for Christmas, and I ask them 'Matchbox or Hot Wheels?'" Johnson said. "Santa only deals in toys."