Who’s a fan of Santa?
He creates magic and mystery and story, three of everyone’s most favourite things. And let’s be honest . . . who else can eat cookies, deliver packages and squeeze himself down and up the chimneys of every single of the world’s several billion households in one night?
Santa is Santa the whole world through, but there are some cultural differences when he visits different countries. If you have children, you probably pilgrimage to Santa every holiday season. When he visits the States, where we lived until earlier this year, you will find Santa frequenting shopping centres, which always seemed an odd tradition to me since Mr. Claus obviously has no need for pre-fabricated goods.
Americans sit Santa on a king’s throne, surrounded by elves, a photographer and some wintery backdrop. By the time you reach the front of the line, you have been staring at him for hours. Close up, he just looks as tired as your child now does. But Santa is magic and the elves are some of the nicest people you may ever meet.
With a smile and snap of a camera, your child is pulled off Santa’s lap. Wait, I forgot to tell you about the bike and crayons and Minnie Mouse cashier that I want!
Of course we return. Because he is Santa and we are deeply in awe of his magic, even though we desperately want more time with him.
When I learned that Santa would be in London before starting his American mall tour this year, I booked Kids 1 and 2 in for the very first time slot available at Chelsea’s Duke of York Square.
I bundled the girls up, well aware that we might be waiting for hours outside until it we reached the front of the queue and had our forty-five seconds with St. Nick.
Visiting Santa in England was a surprising and very different experience. Not only was there no line — we had booked our slots online weeks prior — Santa was chatty, jovial and happy to pause for multiple pictures, which his elves will email to you free of charge (I know. The American in me wanted to let them know just how much parents will pay for those photos . . . but I kept a lid on it).
He looked different too, dapper. Still a hefty man, Santa wore a well-tailored suit, and there was no lycra / polyester lustre that his outfit often takes on when exposed to American shopping centre lighting. Santa, Britain looks good on you. Even his beard looked better, and when some children stared at it he offered for them to “touch it; I promise it’s real!”
Maybe the North Pole is on the GMT time zone so he’s less groggy here; maybe he is just on his best behaviour in case Prince George shows up.
More likely, Santa prefers the UK because the English give Santa his own grotto. That’s right, Santa has a private suite. Americans, listen up, and this can be your experience next year.
When you visit Santa in Britain, you will find him retreated in his own personal lair, shrouded from the crowds of queuing children by mostly sound-proof doors.
No one sees Father Christmas until she enters the magical grotto. Inside, there are elves who usher you toward the big guy. Take a seat, make yourself comfortable. Santa sits on a velvet chair. A decorated evergreen nearby reminds him of home, and a plate of cookies sits half-eaten next to him.
In the grotto, you have Santa’s complete attention, and for a few precious minutes you can talk with him about Christmas logistics (first France, then England, next Scotland, Iceland and then off to the United States). You can ask him about his reindeer, touch his beard.
He will ask you where you will be for the holidays, and whether there will be a chimney. He will ask that you remember to blow out the fire before going to bed, since last year he burned his bum when someone forgot to put out the flames. He will also tell you that his reindeer loved the carrots you left last year, and please leave them again. Mr. Claus himself prefers cookies, but he will gladly nibble on whatever you offer. After all, it’s a long night for him.
And then you sit on his lap, and he takes photos, and you can tell him about the bike with stabilisers that you are coveting. You can hug him, and he will give you some candy, which despite what your mother threatens you know you will finish before you arrive home.