Mall Santas Share Their Most Heartbreaking Experiences On The Job

Henry Gomes

For many of us, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But not for everyone. And in malls everywhere, hordes of children are lined up with their parents waiting for their chance to share their holiday wish lists with “Santa Claus.” However, being a seasonal Santa at a mall or amusement park isn’t always a glamorous gig. Kids can also be brutally honest and heartfelt. Even the real deal Santa from the North Pole would have trouble fulfilling some of their requests. We’ve compiled some of the most interesting experienced by mall Santas and their helpers. Trust us, you’ll never look at that long line in the middle of your local shopping center the same again.

16. Being a Mall Santa Can Be Rough


I had helped Santa for almost twenty years, but mostly for private parties and events. I did cover for him many years ago in a little mall in Belding, Michigan. A little girl came up with a group of kids and didn’t even look up at me and didn’t want to talk or get a candy cane. I asked her what was wrong. She said I didn’t give her what she asked for last year and started crying.

I told her I was sorry and would try again this year. She said I couldn’t because she asked Santa to stop daddy from hurting mommy and he didn’t. All I could do was apologize. The chaperone took the girl away, not saying anything.

I went home sick, removed my suit and never wore it again. I don’t know if the other person helping Santa that day thought they could do something for that little angel, but she was betrayed. I still think about her every holiday season. I haven’t helped Santa since and don’t think I ever will again.


15. Some Kids Want the Things We Take For Granted

I was an elf at the mall, and one time the Santa asked us to give him a little break. When the mall closed I asked him what that was all about. He said he asked a little boy (about seven or eight) what he wanted for Christmas, and the boy said shoes, socks and maybe some new sheets.

He asked the boy “Don’t you want some DVDs or a cool new toy?”

And the boy said, “No, that’s okay, those things are really expensive. I just want to see a present with my name on it, and I think I’d like to have two pairs of shoes.”

Broke my heart because I was that kid once. I know how it feels to see nice things and think those things aren’t meant for me.


14. Some Wishes to Santa Come True

I have been Santa for several seasons. I had a special needs young woman (approximate age of 40, emotional of 12 perhaps) ask me to make her boyfriend quit hitting her.

I told a lady who was helping me to get the deputy sheriff at the event to come see me. I whispered to him what she had said. He came back ten minutes later and asked if I would speak to her in a private area. There the deputy and Santa got a clearer but very disturbing picture of how she had been repeatedly abused.

In May, the deputy let me know the offender had been sentenced to eight years and the girl had been relocated to a new care facility.


13. Being Santa Can Be Soul-Crushing

I did it once and never again. Some of the things still haunt me.

One little girl was the sweetest most well-spoken girl and asked that her parents would love each other again so they could get back together and they could be a family again, the pain in her voice still hurts my heart almost a decade later. Another boy wanted his dad to come back from Iraq. Another little boy wanted his dad back and told me he died in Afghanistan. One asked for his parents to get jobs, because they both lost them.

A few others just ran to me and gave me the biggest and most loving hugs and though those aren’t really sad they really struck a nerve with me, just such genuine love from complete strangers.

I am not an emotional person normally, but even typing this brought me to tears. Kids should not be worrying about some of these things. I would never do it again, you expect toys and gadgets but things like these I never expected and they will be things that break my heart for the rest of my life.



12. When The Kid Hands Santa a Gift

A few years back I filled in for Santa at a locally owned toy store. As I don’t quite look old enough to be Santa (and I have a full lush gingery lumberjack beard) I was billed as “Nick Jr.” and the story was that my dad was Santa and I was in training to be the next Santa—he was having me go and fill in for him at some of the usual stops as part of my training in getting to talk to the little kids.

Oh man, the kids loved that. There was a rocking chair that I was “supposed” to sit in, but I sat on the floor with the kids and chatted and it was awesome. The kids really connected with this idea of a “trainee Santa.”

The most heart-wrenching story was a little girl, about seven or so, who was staying with her dad and stepmom because her mommy was deathly ill in the hospital. She came and saw me every day that I was there and she just wanted to talk to someone she KNEW could really understand where she was coming from in her fear. She hoped that she could come visit the North Pole, but understood if it wasn’t possible.

My last day of the gig she brought me a handwritten-in-crayon note thanking me for everything, saying she was glad to have met me and hoping that I grew up to be the best Santa ever. Let me tell you, all the feels. I am going to keep that damned note forever.


11. We Can All Lend a Helping Hand to Santa

A friend and I went to ZooLights a few years ago, where the zoo opens at night lit up with Christmas lights, and you can buy hot chocolate and Baileys or apple cider and whiskey and walk around listening to music with the animals. Of course, we stood in line to get our picture with Santa.

When our turn came he pulled us in and whispered, “I have had three kids tonight ask me if I can get their dads a job for Christmas. The world is messed up, and you young guys have to do something about it.”

Whenever I make a big decision, I still think about whether I’m being true to my mission from Santa.


10. Revealing The Sad Truth

When I was a freshman in college, I got a gig as a mall Santa at a smaller local mall. A little girl came up to me and sat on my lap. I asked her in the most jovial way what she wanted for Christmas. She pulls out a picture of her dead dog and says, “Can you bring my dog back?” The look on her face when I said no was heart-wrenching.


9. Whatever He Got, Let’s Hope It Was Good

The kid at the front of the line yells to his mom, so everyone in the mall can hear, “Mom, can I ask Santa to use his special magic to get dad out of jail?”

But when he got on my lap he asked for a car.


8. Kids Asking Things For Their Parents Always Gets Me

I was a Santa for three years in college. The most memorable moment—a sad one—was a young boy who asked if I could bring him a “new Daddy because his had died during military service and his Mommy was lonely.” I saw the look of sorrow and pain in his pretty mother’s face, even as she was trying to make Christmas special for her son.


7. When You’re Crushing on Santa

One rather lonely overweight gal kept getting in line several times a week to get pictures with Santa. I was in college myself back then and I’m pretty sure she was working herself up to asking me out. Extremely shy, awkward and had some hygiene issues. She only paid for one of the photos but the elves remember seeing her throughout the week when I wasn’t on shift. Apparently, she only got pictures with me.



6. The Ups and Downs of Being Santa

I work as a Santa for an amusement park. Most wishes are pretty harmless but some stand out. For instance, last weekend I had a child write one specific thing on his wishlist: “Lasagna.” It was pretty odd and funny.

Then there are the heartbreaks like children wishing for their pets to be revived. Last year I had a child who wished for his father to return, meanwhile the child’s mother stood next to us and said: “I wish for that too.”


5. Great Answer to a Difficult Wish

As a Santa at parties, the toughest one was having a little girl who wanted her father home from prison. That was awkward and I had to promise her that although some presents take several years to get, they are the most worth it when it happens. I added the usual assurance that her daddy missed her and loved her. It’s a lot easier when they want Barbies.


4. The Christmas Wishes That Sadly Don’t Become a Reality

I was elementary school Santa for three years. This experience still haunts me. I’d had a long morning of little tykes with retail advertising dreams of all kinds of shiny new “must have” toys, older boys with dreams of motorized vehicles, and older girls with dreams of “cute boys” and makeup and clothes. After a break to “feed the reindeer” (those costumes are HOT), I returned to a busy classroom filled with kids working at all the activities and having fun. And then, after another hour of the usual, I met two little children dressed in their Sunday best.

And each of them perched on my knee, looked deep into my eyes, and asked, quietly and from the depths of their hearts, “Please Santa. I don’t want any toys. I don’t want anything. I just want my baby sister to get better.” And suddenly I knew who they were, their little sister, aged seven, was dying of cancer in the local children’s hospital. We had already done a school fundraiser for her and her family. Our scout troop had raked leaves at their house and helped them with their Thanksgiving dinner.

It took everything I had to not weep. I hugged each child close in turn, gave them their candy cane, and told them that it wasn’t up to Santa, but I would do my best to put in a good word with the guy upstairs. And told them to remember that everybody loved them too, and that it was OK to have fun for themselves. And that I would do what I could to make sure they had some presents.

They each smiled a little bit in turn, and went to hug each other and their grandmother. I could see the smile through the pain in her eyes and she led them to other activities.

I called a break to “check on Rudolph on the roof,” and walked as rapidly as I could to the teacher’s lounge. Where I wept quietly for the little girl, and her family, and the unselfish love of little children.

And then put on the suit and went back to work with a broken heart.

She died two days after Christmas. We planted a butterfly garden at the school in her name, just outside the office window. It’s a pretty place, with a shaded bench and brilliant flowers. And the butterflies come there in the summer and dance.


3. An Important Reminder That Not Everyone’s Holiday is a Happy One

I used to volunteer as an elf for Santa where we would visit underprivileged children. I was probably about 13 at the time. There were lots of heartbreaking things—kids asking for school supplies, cheap toys I had plenty of, etc. Once Santa said he would see what he could do about their gift, I would hand them a little toy, and say “Merry Christmas!”

And then a little boy came up, probably no older than six. Santa asked him what he wanted. He paused, and quietly responded, “A family.” Santa didn’t know what to say. My heart dropped. It was the first time I realized how much I took the love from my family for granted.

Santa somehow managed to ask the kid again, getting him to spit out a skateboard as his answer. I hope that kid got more than just his skateboard.


2. A Reminder That Santa is Human

I was a Santa photographer for four years. The most tear-jerking moment was when a terminally ill little girl (cancer) got wheeled in and asked for her hair back. Despite how busy we were, Santa had her there for around 30 minutes and did everything in the book to make her and her parents smile; it was beautiful. He completely disregarded the manager’s rules of three minutes with each kid max. The moment they left though, Santa started crying, and he had to go on break.

The guy was a retired cop who worked in the APY lands of South Australia, an area rife with suicide callouts, whole family disputes, and drug abuse. To have a hardened cop cry like that makes you realize how good you have things.


1. This Santa Just Might Be the Real St. Nick

I have been doing the Santa thing for a few years now at a tree farm with a cabin in it. The most heart-wrenching story I have is not mine, but from the other Santa that I work with.

There was an older woman (mid-twenties) that was mentally handicapped and when she sat on this Santa’s lap she got really quiet and it took him asking her what she wanted for Christmas several times before she spoke up.

She said, “Santa, my mommy is dying and I need one more year with mommy, Santa, please give mommy one more year.” Before he could say anything she threw her arms around him and gave him a hug while she started crying. Her caretaker (possibly father) then led her away.

The next Christmas she came back to the farm and was very excited to see Santa, you see her mother had lived for another year and she sat on Santa’s knee and asked Santa for another year, that she knew and believed in him and that she had been very good the whole year through.

She had been careful to be good and came to Santa again because she wanted her mommy to live for another year, just like last year. “Santa, just one more year, please Santa, just one more year.” Again, before he could say anything, she was giving him a near strangling hug and then was led away by her caretaker.

The next year she was back, but she was obviously very upset. She sat again on Santa’s knee and looked at him and started to sob. She said she knew Santa had tried his hardest, that he did the best he could, that she should have asked for ten years the first time instead of just the one. She apologized for being so angry at Santa for letting her mommy die.

This Santa looked at her and gave her a long hug and he said to her, “My child, your mommy has passed away, but she will live forever in your heart as long you remember her.” She got really quiet and stopped crying and looked at him. She whispered to him, “I love you mommy. I love you Santa.” She hugged him very tightly and then was led away by her caretaker.

She has not been back since, but my co-Santa said to me that it was moments and people like her that make being Santa so important to him and why he will never quit.


Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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