A holiday tradition has formed in my family of four, one no doubt shared by many other families this time of year. We pick a weeknight, drive to the Westfield Annapolis Mall, take our daughters to visit Santa Claus and go out to dinner. It’s a perfectly lovely, simple and joyful tradition, and Santa has always been lovely, simple and joyful in return. He takes time to speak with all of the children who have waited so patiently in line, and he has a gentle way of interacting with those children who are leery of his celebrity.
Or maybe it’s just his girth, beard and fluffy red get-up they’re leery of? Who knows? But it always amazes me to see otherwise compassionate parents show such a stunning lack of sensitivity when their dubious children are only exercising good judgment when confronted by a stranger. I guess we’re all guilty of acting irrationally when star-struck.
But that’s beside the point.
Let’s get back to those children waiting in line — often, I would add, in uncomfortable dress clothes chosen for how nice they’ll look on a Christmas-card photograph. Hoping to avoid a long line, we usually pick a Monday or Tuesday night around 5 to visit the explosion of lights and tinsel that marks the entrance to the mall Santa area. This year was no exception. Velvet ropes? Check. Signs for overpriced photo services? Check. Fake trees with spray-on snow and moody elfin helpers? Check and check. Maybe these things don’t exactly scream out Christmas spirit, but this is the culture we live in, and I’m happy to go along with it all. But there are limits.
As we waited for our turn, eventually we realized that the pleasantly short line was taking an awfully long time to move forward. Isn’t that nice, I thought: Santa must be giving each child special attention. But as we finally neared the front, a second line revealed itself.
The mall had added a “fast-pass” lane.
Any child who entered that line was instantly spirited forward to see Santa. Expedited “VIP” service — as long as you are willing to pre-order an expensive photo package and pay a “convenience charge,” of course. I watched my 7- and 5-year-old daughters quietly observe the inequity. Were some children more important to Santa than others? Children of any age know about taking turns. That’s what we grown-ups teach them, isn’t it?
I understand that fast-pass lanes are pretty much everywhere these days, from Disney World to the Dulles Toll Road. And I know that making money is the way of the world and that the consumerism of Christmas may be the biggest example of this of all. Santa is in the mall, after all, to lure in people so that they will then spend their hard-earned dollars at the nearby stores.
But what does the Santa fast-pass lane teach our little ones who wait patiently to speak with the big guy? It teaches that it is okay to pay money to avoid having to follow the most fundamental of rules. It teaches that exceptions are made for those with money. It teaches that there are some kids who just have it better than others.
While we all must learn these hard life lessons eventually to live in modern society, I’d appreciate it if my girls didn’t have to learn them while waiting in line to see Santa.
The writer lives in Edgewater, Md.