Let’s face it, if you’re only a celebrity one month out of the year, you’re going to have a major appearance schedule to keep. This week, we’re catching up with Santa all around the greater Hartford area.
Last weekend, Boo and I started the search by heading over to the Shoppes at Buckland Hills in Manchester to see if we could track down the big guy in the red suit. Now, before I go any further here, I have to set the record straight. As much as I love tinsel and lights and glittering ornaments and eggnog and candy canes and carols and stockings hung by the chimney with care, my family does not celebrate Christmas. We’re Jewish. I know this can be a hard time of year for Jewish families with young children. I myself am already dreading the day Boo comes to me with tears in his eyes and wants to know why Santa doesn’t visit him too. Sure we’ve got Chanukah. But to a preschooler, candles, dreidels, and latkes (no matter how delicious) cannot compete with a roly poly rosy-cheeked fellow who magically slips down your chimney and leaves you a pile of presents (for Chanukah, your gifts just come from mom and dad–borrr-ing). And then there are the accessories. A menorah can’t even begin to compete with a workshop full of elves and a flying sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. I know I am not the first Jewish parent to wrestle with the irony of trumping up Chanukah, a relatively minor Jewish holiday, just so our kids can feel like they are not missing out (I’m pretty sure the “Chanukah Fairy” visited us more than once when I was a kid, and although my family drew the line at a Chanukah bush, I seem to remember a garish Chanukah ornament hanging from our chandelier one year). After all, history has provided us with plenty of irony on the subject: “White Christmas,” arguably the most quintessential Christmas song of our time, was actually written by a Jew–Irving Berlin. That has to make listening to Christmas carols at least somewhat kosher, right? This year I broke out the “Chanukah Socks” for a new family tradition. I know, I know, that’s a gateway tradition. But aren’t they cute? Here’s one with a “B” for Boo. (Yes, I accessorized them myself; see Momsense for details.)
For now, while Boo is too small to understand any of it, and everything in the world is still so wild and new to him that every day might as well be holiday season, I’m still enjoying that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere we go. But I’ve also been really impressed by the array of Chanukah celebrations in our area (see Mandy’s Holiday Happenings post for more info). So I’m hopeful that however we decide to handle the holidays as Boo grows older, it will still be the most wonderful time of the year 🙂
Now, back to Santa!
So the first thing to know about the Buckland Hills Santa is when he appears. The times vary with the dates, so I am just going to give you this link to the official website. After all, no one needs to go through the trauma of promising junior a visit to Santa only to find out upon arrival that Santa is out to lunch. (Hey, even Santa needs to eat!)
The second thing is where to find him. You would think that there would be signage everywhere leading you to the Santa photos. No so. We came in through the Barnes & Noble because it lets you out into the mall right where the elevators are located (key if your wee one is traveling by stroller). I figured there would be a sign telling us where to go, and we’d know whether or not to hop on the lift. There was not. At least, there wasn’t one this past Saturday at around 3:00. That’s when we went. With no good clue which way to proceed, we decided to head left on the ground floor. At least we could admire the seasonal decorations. Very pretty.
This is the entrance and the line kind of wraps around the square behind the giant Christmas tree.
As you can see, there wasn’t much of a line when we were there. I wish I could tell you 3:00 on a Saturday is a great time to beat the line, but the mall itself wasn’t that crowded in general so I’m guessing the real holiday shopping will get under way next weekend. Perhaps the first weekend in December is still for the early birds (which I am not usually, but seeing firsthand how pleasant holiday shopping can be without the crowds might just be the kick in the pants I need to change that).
And here’s the big man himself. Red suit? Check. Hat? Check. Beard, belt, boots? Check, check, check. Looks about right to me.
Now, you can meet Santa for free, but if you want a photo memory of your visit the price starts at $22.99 for one 5″x7″ and two 3 1/2″ x 5″ prints. (You guessed it: no personal picture-taking allowed within the perimeter of the Santa set.) Click here for payment details and additional photo packages. And be sure to check the Momsense section below for some great tips on ensuring a successful Santa encounter for your wee one.
Don’t forget your kids with fur! Bring your dog or cat to have a picture taken with Santa. The remaining date is Wednesday, December 7th starting at 6pm. Click here for details.
After we scoped out the Santa scene, we went to check out the kiddie train ride just across the way in front of JC Penny.
The train just goes around in a little circle, but that seemed like plenty of fun for the tiny tots. Boo was not in a riding mood at the time so I didn’t think of it, but I should have asked the operator if adults could accompany their toddlers. If I make it back to the mall in the near future I will update this post with that information. Or better yet, maybe one of you can tell us! The ride costs $3 and runs for several minutes. See Momsense for operating hours.
Next, we crossed back to Macy’s in search of some shoes for Boo that we could actually fit his super wide feet into. I know, not all that festive. But hey, we were already there. Nothing wrong with multi-tasking. As it turns out, at the back of the children’s section by the escalator we found this:
In support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Macy’s is once again donating $1 for every letter mailed to Santa, up to one million dollars. Now, I’ve never seen the North Pole Workshop on a map, but the letter writing instructions indicate that you should put an actual stamp on your letter. Hmmm. I guess that’s why they call it the “Believe” campaign. We won’t ask questions 🙂
There were postcards right there for in-store letter writing, but when I got home I also found this page on the Macy’s website where kids can create their letter online complete with text and decorations, then print and bring into the store to send (after you secretly swipe it and make a copy to keep as a memento, of course).
After all the festivities, we were getting a little hungry. Unfortunately, I have this inexplicable affinity for mall Chinese food, so we wandered back to the food court.
The last time we took Boo on a carousel it was tears and screaming that lasted long after the ride was over, and we weren’t really in the mood to risk it. But I will say that this carousel has two stationary “chariots” in addition to the animals that go up and down; the last carousel Boo took a ride on did not. He might have done considerably better without the bumping up and down. One new sensation at a time, right?!
One last thing to note: as you might have seen in Mandy’s Holiday Shopping Post, this mall has a great play area too.
So long for now!
The Shoppes at Buckland Hills
194 Buckland Hills Drive, Manchester
Regular hours are Monday-Saturday, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm; Sunday 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
Click here to see special extended hours in the December holiday schedule.
Click here for dates and times to visit Santa.
Click here for dates and times for pet photos with Santa.
Train ride schedule:
Monday-Saturday: 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Food court carousel schedule:
Monday-Thursday: 11:00 am to 7:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:00 am to 8:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 pm to 6:00 pm
Tips for a successful visit (and photo!) with Santa:
These tips were originally published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of Parenting magazine, and they reappear on CNN.com. As usual, we’ve added a few of our own thoughts to the mix too.
1. Do a dry run: Take your little one there a day or so before to see Santa from afar. That way, he or she will be more familiar with the whole situation and know what to expect on the big day. Make sure to watch a few of the other kids visit Santa.
2. Don’t even broach the possibility that your child has anything to be afraid of. Nix any reassuring comments that include such phrases as “don’t be scared” or “he won’t hurt you.” Your child may not have even considered that fear was an option–until you made it one. Instead, focus on how much fun it will be to meet Santa.
3. Bring snacks. No one is happy on an empty stomach. Enough said.
Stocking: Target, click here for product info.
Star of David ornament (on tassel): Crate & Barrel, click here for product info. (I got mine in the Blue Back store where they are sold individually.)
Menorah patch: Michael’s, made by Simplicity. Also see dreidel patch here.
Check back Thursday when we’ve got more places to see Santa. Then Friday we’ll give you some stellar ideas for turning your special holiday photos into great handmade crafts (plus some creative ways to display all those holiday cards you’re about to start receiving).