Мне всегда казалось, что вот эта американская идея про Санта-Клауса, сидящего в магазинах и других местах, и выслушивающего от детей непосредственно, что они хотят в подарок на Рождество - очень трогательная и очень праздничная. И вот в этом году, кажется, впервые, дело решили поставить на коммерческую основу - в некоторых крупных моллах стали устраивать запись по интернету к Санте (без очереди, так сказать), и установили плату в 10 долларов. Одновременно запрещают съемку родителями и устанавливают цену за пакет фотографий с Сантой.
Народ в статье справедливо возмущается, что это абсолютно вразрез со всей рождественской идеей, и я полностью согласна. То есть, я хочу сказать, что я вообще говоря абсолютно не приемлю воплей по поводу "коммерциализации" Рождества, я считаю, что рождественская подарочная суета - это тоже часть праздника, и абсолютно ничего плохого не вижу в том, чтобы выражать любовь и заботу о других материальным способом.
Но вот эта идея - к Санта Клаусу по записи и за деньги - она какая-то... абсолютно негодная. И очень в разрез с "Чудом на 34 улице :))".
Parents hoping to avoid a wait for a visit with Santa Claus at Woodfield Mall can now reserve a spot in line with the jolly fellow — but it will cost them.
To make an appointment to see St. Nick at the Minion-themed Ice Palace, which opened Thursday, the mall for the first time is requiring a $10 nonrefundable fee, which can be used toward a photo package.
The new fee and elaborate home for Santa are part of a trend in the Chicago area and across the country to make holiday displays grander at shopping centers, with the aim of bringing online shoppers back to malls.
Holiday displays are "on the scale of what we are calling an attraction now," said Ruth Rosenquist, a spokeswoman for Noerr Programs, which trains and sends Santas and photographers to 278 malls across the U.S, including Woodfield. "They are full-scale Hollywood productions with very high-tech digital walls and cast members in elaborate costumes," she said.
In the last five years there has been a shift in how big the Santa, Easter and even Halloween setups at malls have become.
Accordingly, Noerr Programs, which also dispatches Easter Bunnies in the spring, has changed employee titles. Santa and the Easter Bunny are "cast members." The site coordinator is a "choreographer." Cash register operators are "marketing support."
"It's an omnichannel approach to the season," Rosenquist said. "It's become a much bigger production over time."
Perhaps the biggest reason for the shift is the way the Internet has driven shoppers away from malls, leaving retailers desperate for gimmicks to bring them back.
This is why malls now offer Halloween photo packages for shoppers who bring their children to stores to trick-or-treat. Or why the Easter Bunny will be getting his own high-tech show come this spring, Rosenquist said.
"I really believe that it's a result of online shopping and the fact that developers are now realizing that Santa Claus is a physical manifestation of the holidays, and he brings physical traffic back to the properties. "
Malls in the Chicago area typically allow free visits with Santa, but charge fees for photos and prohibit parents from taking their own pictures, operators say. A spokesperson for Simon Properties, which runs Woodfield and Orland Square malls, said kids still can see Santa for free if they walk up and wait in line; the advance charge is only if they want to reserve their place. And it helps ensure that families keep their appointments with photographers.
Mary Jo Shepherd, a Schaumburg parent who has brought her kids to Woodfield for years, considers the advance fee "a new level of greed."
As a social worker, she said she sees families who can't afford the photo fees. She considers commercial Christmas exhibits, like the holiday window displays at Macy's in downtown Chicago, to be a "give-back" to customers, and was appalled a few years ago when Woodfield stopped letting parents take their own pictures during Santa visits. "It just keeps getting worse and worse every year."
Shelly Kunets, a mom from Belvidere who was visiting Woodfield with her newborn Thursday, said she wouldn't pay to see Santa.
"I think it's taking away from the spirit of why we see Santa," she said. "The magic is in meeting Santa. The rest is just extra."
But Matthew Caczewe, a father of two girls from Elk Grove Village, said he works in sales and understands why malls might have to charge for bigger exhibits.
"To get more, where does the money come from?" he asked. "It's kind of expected. I know we're going to get the girls' pictures, and I'm sure it's going to be costly."
As expensive as the Santa experience can get, it's not surprising that the holiday legend has evolved into a marketing icon, said Robert Thompson, a trustee professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
"Let's remember, Santa is the patron saint of the commercialization of Christmas," he said. "He represents the idea of a bag bursting with presents. On that level, it's hard to get really worked up, because he's always been tied up with moneymaking."
There are still good options for people who want a simple visit with Santa without the fees or reservations, according to none other than Santa himself. John Sullivan, of Streamwood, who once managed Santa mall exhibits and now portrays Santa at a variety of events, maintains a long list of free events on his website, www.santainchicago.com.
Most cities, villages, park districts and chambers of commerce offer free visits with Santa and let parents take their own pictures, he said. He attended one such memorable event on the South Side.
"It was very rewarding, because the kids were so happy to have a Santa there," he said. "The parents were delighted they didn't have to go to a mall and pay."
Of all the local Christmas productions, perhaps the most elaborate begins Saturday at Oakbrook Center. It has teamed up with DreamWorks Animation to create "Adventure to Santa," a 20-minute 4-D movie that leads visitors on an interactive journey to find Santa, with help from Shrek, Donkey and their friends. Participants attend a Sleigh Flight School and choose one of three obstacle courses. The adventure is offered at only four other sites nationwide, including, appropriately, Las Vegas.
One change to the attraction in its second year is that reservations require the purchase of a photo package, which costs from $39.99 for parties of up to five, to $73.99 for parties of up to eight.
The show was such a hit last year, said Suzanne Beres, a spokeswoman for General Growth Properties, which manages the mall, that online reservations began this year in August.
"We are taking reservations to make it easier and quicker," Beres said. "It allows you to shop and dine and go directly to see Santa. It kind of eliminates standing in a line."
In Chicago, Santa headquarters have been moved from Daley Plaza to Millennium Park, to keep him close to the new home of the giant Christmas tree, as well as the ice skating rink and caroling at Cloud Gate, said Mary May, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Visits with Santa are free, and families are asked to bring their own cameras for photographs.
For retailers, elaborate holiday events in recent years might be their way of standing out, said Rob Albertson, marketing director for Bandwidth Marketing Group in Chicago.
"There's so much advertising out there, there's a feeling by retailers that they have to shout louder and be bigger," he said.
But there's hope for those who long for simpler times, he said. Marketing experts have noticed a backlash from the public and some retailers who refuse to succumb to today's commercial trends, such as letting Black Friday creep into Thanksgiving and charging for pictures with Santa.
"When things become too big or too grand or too monetized, there's a nice pendulum shift back," he said. "... There's an inevitable — and hopefully a positive — flow back to the center where people value the O. Henry aspect of the holidays again."