The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 22, 2013

Thousands drop by to visit with Santa

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— HUMMELS WHARF — Even Santa Claus needs to eat.

The Jolly Old Elf was taking a break Sunday, lunching on homemade lasagna and letting his beard hang loose in a secret spot away from the bustle at the Susquehanna Valley Mall.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., he already had visited with about 200 children, and the mall would be open until 10 p.m. Before Christmas has come and gone, Santa will have had thousands of visitors.

Despite the head start on holiday shopping — the mall opened at midnight Black Friday — the number of shoppers was astonishing “but typical,” Santa said.

“Yesterday (Saturday) was crazy,” Santa said. “It’s crunch time.”

Santa has been making a special effort to visit with Valley residents at the mall for the past 12 years, he said. Today, the reindeer got a break, as he told one little girl, “because it’s too warm outside for them. They dropped me off and will come back for me later.”

This year, Santa has spent time with every creature imaginable, mostly children, but also some grandmothers, assorted adults, an entire college hockey team from New Jersey (he didn’t remember which one) and one pot-bellied pig.

“I had to hold him under his hooves or he would snort all the time,” Santa said, but what a lovely picture the pig’s owner got during one of the special pet photo sessions offered this season. The pig didn’t ask for anything special, though.

No one has asked for anything special, in fact, Santa said. “Children have not been asking for a whole lot. There is the occasional one that came with a list or a sales flier circled with what they want,” he said, and most of what kids want are electronics.

Santa suspects the Valley’s children may see a lot of pressures at home given the economy.

“Expectations seem to be lower,” he said.

He remembered one recent request at a church from a little girl for $60, a specific amount. “I asked her why $60, and she said, ‘We don’t have much money.’ ”

That one stuck with Santa.

Kids also have been forthcoming about their behavior this year, Santa said. “When I ask if they’ve been good, most say yes but there is the occasional child who hesitates to answer or looks at mom,” he said.

At least they’re honest, and Santa likes that.

Santa has special help at the mall from Kim Kerstetter and Tina Dauberman, set manager and assistant set manager, respectively.

“Every year, we get at least one person who asks if Santa will be here after Christmas,” Kerstetter said, perhaps to thank — or complain? — about what was left Christmas day.

When it’s all over this year, Santa will retire to the North Pole to spend time with his own family. Asked if Santa himself would like anything for Christmas, he just turned bright red and said, “Ho, ho, ho.”

“I enjoy seeing the faces of the kids,” he said. “When I laugh, they either look me in the eye or pull on the beard and they know I’m for real.”

And those whiskers are real, by the way, reaching way past Santa’s chin this year.

“I will cut the beard right after Christmas” to give himself a break, but come March he’ll go back to growing to be ready in time for the 2014 holidays.