Theoden Janes

Dear Santa: Are you truly in the spirit of giving?


Today I’m going to talk about a scientific experiment that confirms how and why thermodynamic processes are irreversible in a quantum system.

OK, are we good? Did I successfully scare off the children? Cool. Let’s get on with this.

The issue: Santa Claus.

Yeah, him. Fat guy, red suit, white beard, defies gravity by flying around in a sleigh driven by reindeer; defies physics by fitting his chubby body down chimneys; defies diabetes by subsisting primarily on cookies; and – of course – grants wishes to (well-behaved) boys and girls.

Or, at least, that’s the image little kids have in their heads.

The reality is, Saint Nick sits on a throne inside a castle at your local mall, protected by guards – er, elves, armed with Verifone credit card machines featuring built-in EMV chip card technology.

At Northlake Mall, for example, the DreamWorks DreamPlace “Ultimate Santa Adventure” offers photo packages from $35 to $75.

For the uninitiated, the DreamPlace – the most over-the-top Santa setup Charlotte has ever seen – is a 2,000-square-foot “holiday cottage” with 15,000 LED lights on the outside and a virtual-reality sleigh ride on the inside.

DreamWorks has created similar installments at 13 other U.S. malls, and at least two have drawn ire from parents for limiting access to Santa strictly to paying customers only.

In Charlotte, parents can reserve time for their child to meet Santa whether they pay for a photo package or not. However, fine print on the DreamPlace Experience website reads: “Booking a reservation by purchasing a family boarding pass is strongly recommended.”

It’s not difficult to read between the lines, and this jibes with preferential-treatment practices at SouthPark and Carolina Place: Both of those malls clearly advertise that if you pay $30-plus for photos you can reduce your wait times – effectively turning a sacred childhood rite of passage into a ride at Carowinds.

(If you can’t afford pics? Well, you’d better have a really good memory, because there’s no ho, ho, hope of you being allowed to snap a cellphone shot inside Nick’s workshop.)

Now, I’m not as naive as I look. I do realize that there are costs associated with expensive displays such as the DreamPlace. I do realize this is the free market at work.

And yes, I realize that while the idea of Santa is still pure, the manifestation of the myth is widely accepted today as a pot-bellied symbol of commerce – barely remembered for being inspired by a man who was renowned and beloved for giving gifts and money to the poor.

But you can just feel us creeping closer toward a system like the one introduced this Christmas in the Chicago area, where all Simon Properties malls are offering a chance to bypass Santa lines for a $10 nonrefundable fee. (Simon owns SouthPark and Concord Mills here, so it could happen.)

Or, maybe it’ll get even worse. Maybe someday parents will be charged for lap time by the second, plus $5 for each wish, plus an extra $15 if their kid wants to hug and/or kiss Santa, plus $50 more to pull on the beard.

Look, we spent plenty of time earlier in this VERY long holiday season fighting The War on Christmas by complaining about SouthPark mall’s ill-fated decision to try to replace its beloved Christmas tree with a reviled faux glacier. We’ve spent even more time complaining about Starbucks and the Venti-sized heathenism the company put on display with its Satan-red coffee cups.

But those corporate decisions, like ’em or not, were about inclusiveness.

Shouldn’t we get more upset about corporations that encourage Santa – who, again, is based on a patron saint – to give special treatment not to the best-behaved kids, but to the ones whose parents have the most disposable income?

Janes: 704-358-5897;

Twitter: @theodenjanes