So back in the day I used to work retail, as many of us have, and I thought I'd put those long hours to use by sharing some drops of wisdom I've gathered.
I worked at the Fair Oaks Mall Santa set for a few seasons. If you're planning on taking the wee ones to see Santa and get those cherished photos, I have some hard-come-by advice to give you. It's like a present or something.
Although - the idea of going to the Santa set isn't limited to little ones. My grown siblings and I got photos with Santa as recently as a couple years ago as a funny present for our parents.
Go in November. A little late now, but you'll know for next year! The Fair Oaks Mall set was open by the second week of November. Go then. By two weeks before Christmas, the lines are consistenly over an hour long there. There is no need to suffer like that. (Though, if you're local, I was just at Springfield Mall two days ago and it was dead dead dead. Maybe go there? The set was nice enough.)
Be prepared for a meltdown regardless of your child's personality (though depending on your child's age). I cannot count how many crestfallen parents have told me 'But she's always smiling, she never minds being held by strangers,' while the child audibly minded very, very much.
Very simply, if you're going for photos, you should at least be prepared to settle for not-crying instead of smiling and happy.
A couple things you can do to combat the potential for screaming crying Santa photos:
Feed the kids. Cannot stress this enough. Keep in mind you may be waiting in line for an hour or more, so bring plenty of snacks.
Make sure they napped recently, as well. No, apparently these are not no-brainers.
Try not to let your child see Santa before putting them on his lap. I know this sounds weird, but hear me out.
This usually worked for kids between 5 months and 2.5 years. The parent would hold the child and distract them, backing them slowly towards Santa, quickly deposit the child on Santa's lap and then back away, leaving a window of about three seconds where the child was confused as to what happened instead of crying.
Some parents felt as though this insulted their children's intelligence and insisted on showing Santa to their child and explaining to their two-year-old what was about to happen, and this never, ever ended well.
It completely depends on whether getting the pictures is important to you or not. Some parents preferred to let their children decide if they even wanted to sit on Santa's lap at all, which I really liked, but if you're leaving this decision up to your kids, just be prepared to walk away picture-less.
On the other hand, be prepared to get silly to make your children smile. I recall two instances where the children were maybe five years old (so older than the normal screaming age) and the moms said to me, 'Please pardon my language/behavior, this is the only way to get them to laugh.' One mom started doing a really silly dance, and the other mom started telling poop jokes. Both worked like a charm.
The Santa set is technically a photo studio, and taking pictures on your smartphone or camera is prohibited. Of course this policy is impossible to enforce and if we tried to it would usually result in drama (occasionally we'd even have one parent inside the set with the children, and the other standing outside the set snapping photos using a telephoto lens), so we developed a compromise - we wouldn't mind a small number of personal photos being taken if you don't get in our way and wait until we are finished first. This will probably vary from mall to mall and depend on who happens to be working on a given day.
Even if they are service animals and not pets, please only bring animals to the Santa set during designated times. Check with the set or the mall as to when those times are. Feel free to bring your snakes and lizards and cats, we've had all kinds. I'd check in with the Santa set beforehand just to be sure, as it may vary from place to place.
I hope this saves at least one person one headache. Hurray retail!