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Children Wary of That First Visit to Santa

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And, no, Virginia, children don't always smile when they first visit him.

More than 95% of children were visibly indifferent or hesitant when they approached Santa, according to research just performed by a business school professor. While few of the children were smiling, most parents seemed quite happy and excited.

"I thought more kids would be smiling," said John Trinkaus, of the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, noting that the children seemed passive and suspicious.

Last week, he observed 300 children at two large shopping malls on Long Island and 30 children at the Macy's department store at Herald Square, noting each child's facial expression - on a scale running from exhilarated to terrified - as they waited to visit Santa Claus.

When asked whether she was afraid of Santa Claus, Jasmine Ghorbani, a grade-school student coming out of Macy's, seemed almost insulted. "It's the 2-year-olds who cry," she said.

At the malls, Mr. Trinkaus found that the overwhelming majority of kids - 82%, to be exact - showed stone-faced indifference in the face of Santa.Sixteen percent showed signs of hesitation, 1% looked happy, and 1% were terrified.

In the smaller survey conducted outside Macy's Santaland in Herald Square, Mr. Trinkaus's research yielded more encouraging results. While the vast majority of children again were indifferent or hesitant, none were terrified, and two were even smiling.

"I wouldn't dispute those numbers," said "Kris Kringle," 737, who lives at the North Pole,but has been working at Macy's since 1862."Some kids take one look, start screaming, and hide behind their parents' legs."

"For kids under the age of 3, I can be a very imposing figure," Mr. Kringle said, adding that a big, hairy man in a bright-red outfit is not what most infants expect to see.

If children aren't ready, he never tries to force a conversation, but rather waits for them to warm up to him. One frightened child, for example, was only willing to conduct the visit after hiding underneath his bushy white beard, Mr. Kringle said.

On the way out of Macy's, 4-year-old Sissel Soderblom looked a bit shaken. "He did a very good job of saying, it's okay to be scared," said her mother, Karen Soderblom of San Diego. "This is the best Santa we've seen."

On the bus to Manhattan, Callie Griffon, a 7-year-old from Guatemala, was sure she didn't want to sit on Santa's lap at Macy's. But after he told her what she would be receiving for Christmas, she told him she loved him, and he returned the compliment, she said.

Around the age of 10, children who no longer believe in Santa Claus may feel too grown-up to ask him for presents, Mr. Kringle said. Once, a group of unbelieving teenagers ambushed him, holding toy guns to his head. Mr. Kringle was unperturbed, saying, "Santa Claus knows a toy when he sees one."

In the study, Mr. Trinkaus suggested that his findings "might suggest a loss of 'innocence' - that kids are growing up too fast, that 'childhood' is vanishing, that the culture is changing and that pragmatism is what counts."

"I don't think I'm as magical a being as I used to be," said Mr. Kringle with a sigh, when asked about the large number of indifferent stares recorded in the study. "Over the last 30 years, the media has been filled with images of me, earlier and earlier.... Christmas has become too commercial."


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 10, 2003 1:38 AM.

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