Tickling Santa 

Business appears to be good for Santa. A picture with Saint Nick at Southgate Mall costs, at a minimum, $12.99 for a single 5-by-7 inch print. The most popular option, according to the woman collecting Santa’s cash—no credit cards allowed at the North Pole—is the 5-by-7 plus four wallet-sized prints for $19.99. The package is called “The Rudolph.”

“I only work weekends, but it’s been pretty packed,” says one of Santa’s helpers, dressed less like an elf than a college student with a ski cap and an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt. One of the helpers’ responsibilities is encouraging stoic little boys and girls to find a smile on Santa’s lap by tickling them under the chin with a giant yellow feather. As odd as it looks, the trick works—at least one stubborn girl couldn’t resist the power of the feather, cracking a huge toothless grin as Santa’s other helper clicked photos for another order of “The Rudolph.”

My wife and I took our little girl to see Santa less for her enjoyment than our own—not to mention that of her grandparents, godparents and everyone else who demands weekly photographic proof of her development. This is her first Christmas, and even though she’s just 5 months old, can’t talk and displayed little enthusiasm when we brought a tree with hundreds of lights into our living room, a picture with Santa seemed like the sort of traditional benchmark moment that needed to be captured.

“What if she cries?” I ask the college student/elf.

“We’ll take the picture fast,” he says.

So my wife hands our daughter over to the fat man in red with a fluffy fake beard. And after an initial look of skepticism and a Do I know you? glance, my daughter breaks into one of her biggest grins. She poses for the camera like a giddy teenager. No need for the yellow feather here.

“Did she tell you what she wanted for Christmas?” I ask Santa.

“She just giggled and smiled,” he says, and then he winks, like that happens all the time.

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