Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another long-ago thing

I don't know that this is done much any more. Maybe places that still have malls still do it.

But when I was a kid, the big department stores (O'Neil's set up is the one I remember best) had "Santa's Villages" or similar. These were things that were set up with animated mannequins showing elves making toys, or animals ice-skating, or some kind of Christmasy winter scene. The idea was, you walked through the "village" as part of being in line to see Santa.

Seeing Santa at a department store served two purposes: your parents could get a photo of you with Santa (my parents have one from about every year I "believed" and the later ones of course had my brother too) and you got to tell Santa what you wanted for Christmas (with your parents in earshot, of course).

You see something similar, but not as nice, in "A Christmas Story" - there, the kids just waited in a big line, and Santa and his elves were kind of grumpy. (I don't remember grumpy Santas, and I don't think I was ever afraid of Santa, but some kids are).

I liked the Santa's Village and don't ever remember being in a particular hurry to get to the "big man." Though then again, in my family, we were encouraged to write letters to Santa so I figured he got my requests that way. Santa's Village was just fun....just that simple fun that probably doesn't exist as much anymore. Oh, it was sometimes kind of goofy and hokey, but you know? Goofy and hokey are fine at Christmas, I think.

Some of the big department stores (Again, O'Neil's in downtown Akron did this and we went a few years) also did Breakfast with Santa where you went to their restaurant with your family (and OF COURSE you dressed up) and you had pancakes or something and Santa and Mrs. Claus were there and if you were particularly lucky they handed out small cheap toys or had those little stockings with a few little token toys and candy in them. of those things that's probably vanished except maybe from some upscale settings*. We were pretty firmly middle-class but it was something we did. (I am sure my parents had to pay for the breakfast, and maybe pay a little more than a normal restaurant breakfast for the privilege of spending it with Santa).

(*Then again, I know some people in the privileged class who "don't do" Santa because of various reasons, so, I don't know).

The mall nearest us didn't have its own Santa; I suppose the idea was you saw one in one of the department stores. Instead, the mall had Archie the Snowman, who was a giant snowman that someone (hiding behind a curtain somewhere) gave voice to. (Kind of like Big Tex at the Texas State Fair). I am SURE some kids were afraid of Archie but I don't remember being - for one, thing, I tended not to have "monster fear" or anything like that as a child - I think it was that I fundamentally trusted my parents and knew they wouldn't take me to see Archie if he was dangerous. And also, I think I had a better grasp of "real" vs. "fantasy" as a kid - I knew Archie was really some guy somewhere talking into a microphone, but I didn't care, it was still fun and I could enter into the spirit of it. (I kind of still can do that thing, at least if I don't feel like anyone is looking at me and judging me - hence my love of things like having My Little Ponies and combing their hair and stuff).

But again....I wonder if maybe there are a lot of things I enjoyed as a kid (despite my regular comments that "the 1970s hated children") that don't exist now or have become prohibitively expensive. (Or perhaps in some way not acceptable). (Also, I recognize I had a certain level of privilege as a kid: I had parents who loved me and wanted to do things like take me to experience Santa's Village. I hope they realize what a base of happy memories that gave me and that as a tired old adult I can draw on that and see good in the world because of all the happy things they did with me as a kid)

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