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Santa has plenty of stories to tell of the season

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 6:34 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Santa Claus listens to Mia Duckstein, 4, (left) and her sister Emma, 3, during a stop at the Mall at Robinsonn
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Laura Taylor holds her daughter Zoey as they get a closer look at Santa Claus, during a shopping trip at the Mall at Robinson.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Annie Newell of Canonsburg and Santa try to entice Newell’s son, Kevin, 2, to share his Christmas wish list, as sister Avery, 1, rests on Santa's lap.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Santa Claus visits with Mia Duckstein, 4, (left) and her sister Emma, 3, at the Mall at Robinson.

Mia Duckstein, 4, and her sister, Emma, 3, of Robinson approach Santa Claus, who is seated in his big comfy chair inside the Mall at Robinson. The younger sibling asks a question to the jolly old man in the red suit.

“Santa,” she says. “You are tall and big. How are you going to fit down our chimney? I don't think you will fit.”

“Oh, Santa will find a way,” he tells her.

She smiles, and now she can relax, so she proceeds to tell him what she has on her list, which includes a puzzle and a baby doll. The sisters then pose with Santa and their 2-month-old brother, Henry, while mom Mikela looks on.

Little ones such as Emma Duckstein ask and tell Santa everything from funny to serious and in between.

It's a chance for them to share what's on their minds. And they certainly have a receptive ear.

“Kids say and ask all kinds of things,” says Santa, during a stop at the Mall at Robinson. “They talk about what is important to them and what is on their minds. I enjoy listening to them.”

The answers aren't always as easy as his girth and the chimney situation, Santa says. He recalled one little boy who asked for his mother to have a good Christmas because she had cancer.

“I see Mom standing there with a scarf on her head and tears in her eyes,” Santa says. “I gave her son a hug and told him Santa cares about your mom. Another youngster asked for his dad to be able to get up and run with him like he used to. So, I told him maybe the two of them could find an activity to do sitting down, like playing a game or watching a movie.”

There are some things Santa can't promise, and he doesn't. If a video game isn't age-appropriate or an item might be too expensive, Santa talks to the children about those things, saying he loves them too much to bring them a game that is for an older child.

“When they come to see me, it's about starting a tradition,” Santa says. “This is an important part of their child's life, and, sometimes, entire families come back to see Santa. That's what it's all about.”

There are times Santa gets a heads up from parents about what the child might ask for so he can prepare, but there are occasions when a request just comes without any warning, says Santa, who was visiting Ross Park Mall.

“One little boy asked for stocks in Costco,” Santa says. “I told him that might be a good gift for Mom and Dad to buy him.”

After that, two little girls came by and one had a list that included items such as chicken salad, a loaf of bread and sugar. Santa asked her if this was her list? And her mom chimed in, saying, “No, that is my grocery list.”

There are so many fun times with the children, Santa says. He recalled last year when a mom brought her child in early for a photo to send to Dad in Afghanistan. This year, a man came by and shook his hand and thanked Santa, telling him the picture helped him get through his military service overseas.

“I thanked him for protecting us and serving his country,” Santa says.

There was a time when a little girl asked Santa for her friend, who was dying, to get out of the hospital. Santa told her he would pray for her friend.

“Sometimes, that is all you can say,” Santa says. “I feel so bad, because I want to make it better. But, sometimes, I can't.”

Santa has to tread lightly on some topics such as when a child asks for a puppy or kitten or expensive items. He tells the youngster that it is too cold at the North Pole for animals and as for items like iPads and other electronics; he can't promise those … “I will see what I can do,” he says.

Santa sometimes uses his magic, like when he got a special-needs child, whose mother told him that the boy wouldn't sit on his lap, to not only do that, but to smile, too.

“Mom and Grandma were in tears,” Santa says. “Because that was the first photo with Santa and that the boy was also smiling. It's about the magic of Christmas and of Santa.”

The smiles are the most rewarding for Santa, he says during a visit to the Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills, Frazer. The best way to get a child to come close is to get down and look at them eye-to-eye, Santa says.

It's about making the child feel comfortable, Santa says. Santa can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable when a child asks for a baby brother or sister. He defers that to Mom and Dad, because that is not up to Santa, he says. “Santa can help with things like trucks and baby dolls,” Santa says. “I love to bring toys that I and the elves can make.”

There are times children will tell Santa they talked with him the night before on the Internet, but Santa tries to move the conversation to the here and now. Children often worry about how Santa will find them at Grandma's house or, what if there is bad weather.

“Santa is magical,” Santa says. “I know where they will be. Nothing stops me because I have Rudolph and all my reindeer and my sleigh.”

Santa says it is amazing to think of how many households and wallets and scrapbooks and, now, cellphones and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram accounts that have his photo.

“I love every minute of it,” he says. “The children are so cute, because their hearts are so pure. I tell them, when they interact with me, it touches Santa's heart.”

There are other touching moments, too. A young boy came by with his mother and Santa told him to bring his father next time.

“Santa, don't you remember? My daddy died,” the little guy says. “I got tears in my eyes. ‘Yes, Santa remembers,' I told him.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at jharrop@tribweb.com or 412-320-7889.

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