Our local mall Santa Claus has been the same set up for as long as I can remember: families wait in a long line that wraps around a bunch of fake trees, until they finally arrive at Santa holding court in a giant green chair. It was nothing too fancy, but I liked it that way. My kids knew exactly what to expect…not that the familiarity kept them from freaking out once they saw Santa or anything.

This year I was surprised when a giant walk-through building was set up in Santa’s location (two weeks before Halloween, grrrr). Kids would walk through a few different stations while they waited for Santa. There were also giant TV monitors up throughout the structure, and a giant sign on top said Santa HQ by HGTV. Because nothing says “Santa” like the channel dedicated to your pinterest insecurities!

My kids were, unsurprisingly, all about the whole thing. They kept asking when they could see Santa. That’s when I discovered that “reservations were encouraged.” You know, to make the whole Santa experience “more pleasant.” Uh, ok. When I went online to book the reservation, I then discovered that for the privilege of a reservation time, I was required to pay in advance. That’s some balls…what if my kids flipped and refused to even sit for a picture? Oh, but I would also save 5%! Well in that case, sign. me. up.

Unfortunately for me, the day of the reservation was when I came down with the 24 hour bug. Since there were NO REFUNDS, my parents offered to take the kids to meet the big man. When they arrived, all the TV screens on the outside of the structure were playing clips from HGTV shows. Just what kids want to watch when they’re waiting in line! I’m sure the identical faces of the Property Brothers only calm and soothe nervous children.

Once they were inside, the kids got to go to the Naughty or Nice station. Both of my kids were on the nice list (when Annabel told me about it later, she said she was relieved she was on the nice list and surprised that James was, too, LOL):

naughty or nice

After that, they moved into the “Elf Ray Vision” section: basically a room with things painted onto the walls that reacted to special app on a phone or iPad.

elf ray vision
James looks like he’s going to tackle her to get that iPad.

Then it was onto price gouging attempt #1: a secondary photo. They posed the kids on these oversized presents, snapped some pictures of them, and then told my parents, “You can add any of these images to your package!” Yeah orrrrr I can just go online and take screenshots of them because I already paid a bazillion dollars for pictures with Santa, thank you very much.

I like how Annie is prominently displaying her letter to Santa. Priorities.

When they finally got to the #1 OG, James looked at him and was like, “I dunno about this.” My parents put him on the seat next to Santa, but as you can see, he was less-than-thrilled.

he sits on a throne of lies

what stinks?

When James started to wiggle away, Santa grabbed him with his iron-grip:

we have a winner
Santa wears gloves so you can’t trace him back to his crimes.

Does he look happy? Nope. Is he crying? Nope! I’ll take it!

I’m hoping this means the crying-at-Santa phase is behind us. It always makes me giggle to see those pictures, but I far prefer the photos where my kids are happy…or in the case of James, quietly disgusted.