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When Did They Make the Big Elf a Saint?

What awaits the weary shepherd following yonder fake star to the mall at Christmas? Relentless assaults by professional perfume sample squirters, guilt-tripping harangues by shrieking merchandise protesters and, now, the worst of all--behavioral inquisitions from Santa Claus!

I did not witness the incident myself. A friend took my daughter to the mall. That is because I am among the walking sane who avoid malls this time of year. I will go for city sidewalks, busy sidewalks or small neighborhood shops. But those walled cities of the damned bring out the caged rat in me.

One pass through the brightly lit maze of Mrs. Fields’, Calico Corners, Express, The Limited, Yogurt Delite, Tops ‘n Bottoms, Big ‘n Tall, Pretty ‘n Plump, Closets ‘n Things--'n I gotta bolt.

This will probably be the last time my 11-year-old daughter sits on Santa’s knee. By next year, the hormonal storm that’s a comin’ will no doubt take her away. So I asked her for a report on how it went.

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I expected to hear that when she sat down and he asked, “What do you want?” she handed him the same list of demands she brought to my holiday bargaining table. It reads like a litany of transitional dreams:

1--A stereo with two tape places, a radio, two speakers, in a black, white, blue, gray or red color.

2--Stuffed animals.

3--Hair things.

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4--A phone in my room or my own line or get call waiting.

5--A wallet.

6--MONEY!

7--Jewelry.

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8--A water bed.

9--A new coat.

10--More tapes.

11--Candy--an old-fashioned gumball machine.

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12--More dresses.

13--Puffy Paints.

14--Football.

15--Soccerball.

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16--Socks.

17--Headphones for my Walkman.

18--Big stress guy.

The last item was my favorite. It’s a Silly Putty-like figure that you can squish and squeeze, sold under the name Executive Stress Buster. She already has a little one on her key chain, but no doubt the demands of the approaching 12th birthday will require the stress guy in extra-Large.

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Just being a kid these days is stressful enough. And don’t look to Santa Claus for a break.

“So, did Santa ask you if you’d been a good little girl?” I asked her.

It turns out that Santa has gotten more specific in these troubled times. “He asked me something else,” she said. “He asked, ‘What will you say when someone offers you drugs?’ ”

She said he asked a lot of other questions. She was well coached and knew all the right answers.

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But I began to worry that instead of candy canes he was passing out condoms.

I am certainly not opposed to drug education or sex education or even sensitivity training. There probably are children for whom Santa is the only credible adult authority figure left. But I wonder if we can’t let up for one minute and have a Santa who is just a low-key, fun kinda guy.

Now, I won’t protest or sue or stage a write-in campaign against a sanctimonious Santa, but you can bet some crusading mother-for-the-'90s will. And then, you know what will happen? We’ll have to fill out permission forms to allow our child to sit on Santa’s knee.

Someday, some kid will be standing with a friend’s mom at the mall, screaming and crying outside Santaland while the mall manager says, “I’m sorry, but we can’t proceed unless we have the paperwork on this child.”

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So, Santa. Let’s just keep it simple. Can you say: “Been a good little boy or girl? . . . Whatdaya want? . . . Here’s a candy cane--what’s your hurry?”

The last thing the mall needs is a Santa Claus who’s acting like some kind of saint.


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