Being a "mall Santa" is supposed to be a magical experience, but sometimes that experience can be a little...much. Whether it's because the kid sitting in their lap has the appearance and attitude of the Antichrist, or because the kid asks for something so heartbreakingly sweet, it brings a tear to Old Saint Nick's eye, these are the stories these "Santas" will never forget.
We scoured through Reddit to find the most outrageous, tenderest, most unbelievable stories we could find and compiled them here. Content has been edited for clarity.
Are You Cold, Buddy?
“One time when I was a mall Santa, one of the children got up and asked for, ‘Fire.’ I kid you not, the kid looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘Fire.’
When I joyfully asked, ‘What do you mean by that, ho, ho, ho?’
He looked me dead in the eyes and said: ‘I want fire.’
Last I looked, there is no game or form of entertainment called Fire and this kid looked like he could be the Antichrist.”
You Want A What?
“I wasn’t a Santa, but when I worked on a Christmas tree farm a kid told me he wanted an ax for Christmas. I thought he was just being a kid and saw the saws and stuff we had and was like ‘neat, things.‘ So I asked him, ‘Haha why would you want that?’
He responded, ‘So I can kill my sister and get her presents.’
The kid was probably like seven years old.”
I’ve Heard Everything
“I am Santa seven days a week from the weekend before Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve. I have heard all kinds of stuff. I had a child ask me for a single stick of gum because his mom wouldn’t allow him to have any.
I had a girl ask for a box of Frosted Flakes for the same reason. I’ve had a child ask me to bring her daddy home from Afghanistan. I’ve posed with the portrait of a child who had just passed away a month prior. There have been children who have asked for live chickens and live pigs. One day I really need to write all of these down. One thing I can say: it’s usually never boring.”
Deciphering The Squiggles
“I played Santa once at a work function for families who were new to the country and about to go on a tour of local Christmas lights. The kids didn’t really have a chance to ask me for anything, I was just tasked with handing out candy. They were all pretty awestruck, which was neat to see, but what they didn’t tell me was that they were also bringing some mentally challenged adults along.
They were also really cool, but the one that stuck out to me was a middle-aged gentleman who handed me a note while I was passing out candy bags. I didn’t get a chance to look at it until afterward; it was a piece of lined paper with squiggles all over it. Took me a minute to realize that the man didn’t know how to write, but still wanted to give me his Christmas list.
I don’t know what happened to him afterward, but I really hope he got what he wanted for Christmas that year.”
How About A Surprise, Instead?
“My first year as a Santa, I had a weird gig where I was at a major retail outlet but didn’t have a seat, so I just kind of awkwardly walked around. Because of the beard/wig, there’s very little peripheral vision, so I didn’t see this one little girl run up behind me until she hit me in the back. I turned around, and you could just tell that this kid was an ungrateful smart-alec.
She looks up at me and says, very matter-of-factly:
‘Santa, for Christmas this year I want a flying unicorn named Sparkles who poops rainbows.’
Well, I proceeded to explain to this young lass that unfortunately, when I put Sparkles in the sleigh, she just flies away again. So I couldn’t bring her along.
Instead, I asked if she’d like a surprise for Christmas this year instead. She was dumbfounded and just nodded kind of absentmindedly. I don’t think she expected that response and then seemed quite excited about the prospect of a surprise. She walked away with a candy cane and a pretty excited demeanor.”
A Real Life Santa
“Back around 1990, I played Santa one time for my high school’s Beta club or Octagon club, can’t remember which. They were doing a Christmas dinner for disadvantaged children the week before Christmas. One little boy asked me for a Nintendo and I said, ‘I’ll see what I can do,’ and then a few kids later, his older sister came up and said, ‘I don’t want anything, but could you get my little brother a Nintendo? He wants one so bad.’ – It broke my heart so bad I almost started crying right then and there.
I asked if I could keep the Santa suit for a few more days and Christmas Day, I found out where they lived and got all my friends to donate any old games/equipment/accessories they didn’t play anymore and gathered up about 25 games, a Nintendo, power-pad, power glove and sensors, and all the cables to hook it up, and one parent donated a 27 inch TV. I drove up to their house in that Santa suit, in my purple Firebird. It was hard to explain where the reindeer were, but I gave that little boy a Nintendo.
I’d never seen a child so happy and I was trying my best not to cry with his mother, she was that mix of happy, excited, crying, covering her face, and couldn’t stop thanking me. I hooked up everything and got the kids started with it and explained how everything worked and how to hook it up and they were just so amazed that Santa brought them all that and stayed all afternoon to play with them.
Because his older sister was so selfless and gave up her wish to him, we rounded up enough to get her a pink and purple bike with the streamers on the handlebars, and one of those Barbie camper playsets. She thanked me so sweetly for her presents and thanked me for her little brother’s Nintendo. I tear up every time I think about it.”
She Just Knew She Could Trust Him
“I have not shaved in a few years. My now 24-year-old son asked on his 21st birthday that I not shave and grow my beard out to see what would happen. Think of the Star Trek five year mission.
I now look like Santa, a Duck Dynasty person, or a homeless person.
I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of cargo shorts and a young girl around five to seven years of age approached me in a department store and said, ‘Santa, I will be good forever if you could find my mom.’
They had gotten separated in the store. I saw a woman trying to hook up with a guy not far away, but the child was not tall enough to see her.
I basically guilted that woman into buying her daughter something.
I now volunteer as Santa for sick children who are in the hospital at Christmas.”
Be Careful What You Wish For
“I never was a Santa, but there’s a small township called Granger, it’s near South Bend, which is home to Notre Dame, and it’s filled with very well-off families. The one year I was doing the photos, I took a photo of four of the nicest dressed kids and they were very well-behaved.
They were accompanied by their nanny, which many of the families have, and the eldest daughter (perhaps 8/9) asked Santa for new parents for Christmas. When he asked why, she simply said, ‘Daddy’s always away and Mommy spends all her time with uncle Mike. I get good grades but she only cares about uncle Mike and her dogs.’
It broke my heart that these kids’ mother was cheating on their dad with their ‘uncle Mike’ and that she cares more about her dogs and affair than her four beautiful children. Some people don’t deserve to have kids. The next spring, those same parents died in a murder-suicide because his business was committing Medicaid fraud. I only knew this because I recognized the nanny that the local news crew interviewed who found their bodies after coming back from a trip to the zoo. Guess Santa gave them their Christmas wish in the worst way possible.”
“Santa’s Going To Kill My Fish!”
“An old co-worker of mine was a volunteer Santa.
A five-year-old boy climbs onto his lap and my friend asks what the boy wants for Christmas. The boy exclaims, ‘I want an orange goldfish!’
My friend glances over at the mom, who gives him the thumbs up, so he smiles and tells the boy that he’ll make sure it goes on the list. But the boy worriedly leans closer and says:
Boy: ‘Santa, you have to bring the fish in water, okay? Fish need water to live!’
Friend: chuckles ‘The fish will come with water, I promise!’
Boy: ‘And you have to feed it! They sell fish food at Walmart.’
Friend: ‘Uh, okay. The elves will make sure-‘
Boy: ‘And you can’t leave it in the sleigh! It will FREEZE AND DIE!’
Friend: ‘Don’t worry, nothing will happen to the fish.’
Boy: ‘And it can’t stay in the bag because it won’t have air.’
Friend: ‘I have many requests for fish, and they’ve all gone to their homes safely. Don’t worry-‘
Boy: ‘You don’t understand! You’re magic! Animals need food and water and air!’
Boy: jumps off Santa’s lap, very exasperated ‘MOM, SANTA’S GOING TO KILL MY FISH.'”
Poor, Pitiful Boy
“I wasn’t the Santa, I was the kid. When I was seven-ish, I asked Santa to help my mom pay off her loans so we could keep our house.
We had just bought our first house and my parents were going through some stuff, so I lived alone with her and overheard some conversations about mortgage payments. At the time it seemed practical, but I wonder if the Santa thought my mother’s life was falling apart.”
I Want A Hippo!
“A kid in the family asked Santa for a hippopotamus. I used to think it was a cute song until that year when she sang it nonstop for a month. Her mom gave her a photo of a hippo along with a letter from the hippo’s caregiver. Cute. Except now there has to be a letter sent out and received every month or so along with a new photo of said hippo. This year they’re afraid she’ll ask Santa for a plane ticket.
No, they can’t seem to just tell her no. It should be fun when she gets older.”
What To Do When Faced With A Non-Believer
“I’ll never forget the worst Santa ask of all time. It came from this little girl who had sat on my knee alongside her brother. The boy was a bit younger and totally bought my awful Santa routine (I was like a fat teenager in the worst fake beard ever), but the girl had this scowl on her face. She was getting to that age where you start to question why some lunatic woman with wings would want your teeth.
So yeah, she had come to to the age where the sugar-sweet simplicity of the world she’d been given was starting to rot away. She was a bitter wanderer in search of answers, and she had come to me to confirm her suspicions that beyond the brilliant blue sky was only the dark blackness of an unfeeling and uncaring universe. She had come to destroy the Santa mythos and everything it stood for, and I was her unfortunate target.
She had clearly spent weeks planning for this very moment, furiously searching for the question that would finally shatter the illusion of tranquility and expose the web of lies in which she had been ensnared. Her chambers loaded with that fateful question, she took the shot.
‘Where do you get all the wood and metal for the toys?’
She’d done it, she’d found the lie which could not be undone. Never mind that a fat man being pulled by a phalanx of magic deer could somehow commit millions of acts of breaking-and-entering in a span of about ten hours, carrying with him a mass of toys heavy enough to sink an aircraft carrier, forced to politely partake of some milk and cookies from each of these countless households without somehow exploding like the fat guy from Se7en.
NO, THAT WAS ALL FINE. THE NATURAL RESOURCES THOUGH.
Her eyes said it all. ‘WOOD AND METAL, FAT MAN. HOW DOES ONE PORTLY MAN LIKE YOURSELF POSSIBLY ACQUIRE THE AMOUNT OF RAW MATERIALS REQUIRED TO SATIATE THE CONSUMERIST FRENZY OF CHILDREN WORLDWIDE.’
‘Uh… we have lots of trees in the North Pole,’ I lied through my teeth. ‘I have the elves chop them down.’ I tried to remember the telltale signs of lying and avoid them, keeping my eyes fixed on the target without letting them wander upwards, working mental knots to convince myself of my own falsehood, believing in my own lie with the conviction of a man trying to pass a polygraph test in the aftermath of brutally murdering his wife with a rotary saw.
And for a moment, it seemed to work. I could see her mind moving, working out the logistics in her head. The elves cutting down trees… yes, it was plausible. But then she stopped, her eyes again turned to stone as she looked up at me, striking the killing blow.
‘Well, what about the metal?’
She’d figured it out. That crafty little witch. Even the youngest schoolchild knows the North Pole has no natural ore deposits! I’d been exposed as the fraud I was, and in doing so, I was forced to confront my own mortality. I had mimicked the actions of that jolly red-suited man, trying my best to spread cheer to the children, hoping I could somehow shelter them from the horrible silence of the cosmos, from the burden of entropy that would someday engulf our world in ice and/or fire. I realized then it was all for nothing, that someday all walls would come crashing down. That everyone dies alone.
I knew then my purpose. If I could not be a Saint (Nick), I would be the devil. I would become that which this child hated most, the lie which she could not unsee. Like a serpent, I would lead her from the Garden of Eden and allow her to partake of the fruit of knowledge. She would no longer be able to bask in the comfort of ignorance but instead be cursed with the burden of mortality. Yet she would be alive, free from the lies for the first time in her life. Perhaps this was the greatest gift I could give.
‘I GET IT FROM CHINESE INDUSTRIALISTS,’ I answered with a growl, her eyes wide with horror at the obvious lie. ‘NOW SMILE FOR THE PICTURE.’
Blinded by the sudden flashbulbs she could not press her inquiry further, roughly shoved to the exit by my extremely stoned elf who had forgotten to remove his lip-ring again. Back in the custody of her parents, she turned to look at me once more. Her childhood innocence finally shattered for good, her terrified eyes pleading to know if any truths remained, perhaps the strangest question any of us can ask.
With my heart now black as stone, I answered:
‘HO HO HO!'”
It Was Such A Simple Wish
“About 25 years ago, my dad was in his first year working as a family social worker in Boystown, NE, and volunteered at the local church. A particularly stocky guy, he was a natural candidate for playing the Santa role for the community event.
One child asked for a Big Wheel, ‘a blue one,’ and my dad saw the boy’s mom frowning and shaking her head behind her son. Since Boystown was a fairly small community, he knew the family and knew the mother was working herself to death to pay the bills. He was heartbroken at her pain, knowing she couldn’t satisfy the boy’s one ‘wish.’ My dad deflected the boy’s wish and got the child distracted talking about reindeer. That night, he made a stop at the toy store and left it wrapped on the family’s porch. The only person who ever knew my dad did this was my mother (his girlfriend at the time), who only knew because she’d picked him up from work that night.
My dad passed away the night before Thanksgiving in 2012. My mom told us over Thanksgiving dinner that year. One of the many great memories that get us through Turkey Day.”
Let It Go, Elsa
“My daughter asked to be Elsa for Christmas from Santa, which is just odd, but she was 3 or 4 at the time.
Anyways a girl doing cosplay as Elsa was walking through the mall and heard it, which was incredibly crazy and weird, and honestly, the girl seemed creepy.
But whatever, as soon as my daughter and I leave the line, a life-sized Elsa walks over (with her Christmas shopping bags from LaSenza in her hands) and says, ‘I heard you wanted to be me for Christmas, how bout we sing a song together?’
And this woman drops to her knees and starts holding my daughter’s hand and singing that ‘Let it Go’ song at the top of her lungs and my daughter sort of sings along and people started stopping and taking pictures of them like they were some kinda act performing for Christmas. Meanwhile, I look back at Santa who is just standing there shaking his head.
Weirdest random thing ever. The girl was way dirty, my daughter hugged her and was thrilled. I made my daughter have a shower as soon as we got home.”
Who’s On My Lap?
“One time, when I was the resident Santa at a well-known and highly respected department store in NYC, a little person came in and sat on my lap. Under the layers of beard, ill-adjusted plastic spectacles, and loose clothing, I had no clue the person was not a child.
‘How are your folks?’ I ask innocently.
‘A little under-the-weather, they are dead,’ he replies monotone.
I hesitate, we are told to ask using the term ‘folks’ because it is accepting to children who may be in a non-traditional family setting – i.e. they are fostered or adopted. Therefore I was taken aback when this child, and I truly believed him to be just that at the time, said their folks had perished. In my mind, that seemed to allude to them being a homeless child, a humble street urchin. This set into motion the procedure I was trained to follow, to get the homeless person out of our up-market store as fast as possible. Without a moment to spare, I engage in the secret call for security: a loud jolly laugh three times in the tune of ‘Fight For Your Right’ by acclaimed rap trio The Beastie Boys.
The little person on my lap grows restless by the third laugh and I am worried he may bolt at any second. Luckily the security arrives in time to throw the guy out and the story has a happy ending as we all have a big laugh at the staff Christmas meal.”