In the good old days, you could go see Santa at the mall, linger on his lap, and tell him all about that dangerous BB gun you wanted, but times have changed. Santa is a celebrity now, and malls are trying to capitalize on the jolly old elf any way they can. Unfortunately for them, parents still aren’t drinking the Koolaid.
New Jersey’s Cherry Hill Mall came under fire this week after they tried to charge families just to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus. According to the Philidelphia Inquirer, previous Santa exhibits were free to the public, even if parents didn’t want to purchase photos or extras. This year they decided to take a page from Ebenezer Scrooge’s book of tricks and put Santa inside a windowless enclosure where only families who pre-purchase a pricey photo package — which cost $35 to $50 — are allowed inside.
They tried to justify the price by pointing out that Cherry Hill Mall is one of 12 malls across the country that feature Dreamworks Adventure to Santa attractions. Prior to seeing Santa, families go through a 15-20 minute “experience” that includes iPads for designing virtual gingerbread houses, singing elves, and a simulated sleigh ride. The only problem is, even families who don’t want the full experience can’t see Santa without paying first. Oh, also? The mall offered the same attraction last year and didn’t require any pre-purchases to get in.
As soon as customers noticed the change in policy, they began flooding the mall’s Facebook page with complaints. Many stated that if the mall wanted to charge people for a bunch of bells and whistles, they should offer a separate Santa for families who don’t want that experience or can’t afford it. Wrote one customer, “It costs a $35 minimum for your child to see Santa? Pathetic! It’s a shame! Way to take the joy away from a lot of kids whose parents can’t afford it. Everyone should boycott this attraction.”
Parents were so vocal, in fact, that the mall has since reconsidered it’s decision to charge. In an official statement, a representative for the mall said, “We got feedback from our shoppers. Some were not pleased with our decision to charge a fee. They said ‘This is not what the holidays are about.’ So we listened.”
The holidays are a magical, happy time, but they also present a huge financial burden for a lot of families. One thing families have always been able to count on is a visit with a friendly mall santa where kids can sit and chat about their wish lists and experience a bit of wonder that doesn’t cost a thing.
An interactive experience sounds cool and many families probably end up purchasing photo packages anyway, but neither should be a requirement. Santa isn’t Justin Bieber; he’s a universal symbol of generosity and goodwill. He shouldn’t have an appearance fee that prohibits some kids from being able to share in the holiday spirit.