One of the most important stops at Washington Square is at Santa's Workshop
Santa Claus was on the job around lunchtime on Monday. The shoppers at Washington Square strolling past the recreated North Pole 'village' between the food court escalators could see him there, in his big green velvety chair, smiling and waving to passersby - and yet, he was strangely alone.
Around back of the corral that surrounded the colorful complex, where kids normally would be queueing up for a chance to see the Big Guy, a sourfaced young lady was shooing people away, with the simple explanation that they were experiencing 'technical difficulties.'
The technical problem turned out to be a dead printer in the North Pole's fancy camera system, which left the operation unable to take pictures of children talking to Santa.
That explanation seemed to work on some of the civilians, but when a mall employee approached and unhooked the retractable strip blocking the entrance, she reminded Santa's helpers that anyone just hoping to come in for a visit - even those not interested in the official photography package - could indeed come in and talk to St. Nick.
Besides, she added, there is 'media' here to witness the goings-on, and they, too, are not interested in whether Santa's camera system is working or not.
Almost immediately, kids began finding the opening and slipping inside the fenced-in wonderland.
The first was Haylee Sorenson, 2½, of Beaverton. Looking every bit like little Cindy Lou Who in the animated version of 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.'
Haylee broke free from her mom, Erica Sorenson, and ran to Santa's big chair. With a friendly word, he scooped her up and began quizzing her about her Christmas plans.
Out of respect for their privacy, we backed away, instead inquiring of Mrs. Sorenson what Haylee might be asking for.
'Her brother told her that she wants a Barbie,' said Erica, with a smile. 'But she doesn't even know what a Barbie is.'
The next little girl in the gate was also a neophyte at this Santa-visit business. But 20-month-old Adelynn Maue ('She'll be 2 in March'), decked out in her special Christmas dress, was bashful. She approached the man in the red suit with extreme caution.
Her parents, Robin and Morgan Maue of Beaverton, watched with trepidation.
'We're just hoping she'll give him a high five,' said Robin.
But Adelynn wasn't so sure, and after she continued to hang back, Santa finally slid down off of his mighty throne and sat cross-legged on the floor until Adelynn loosened up and came over to him. Together they looked at one of the little give-away books Santa keeps in a trunk beside his chair.
The next group of kids to arrive was with 'Grandma and Grandpa,' Janine and Skip Stanton of Metzger. Two 3-year-old cousins - Paula Johnson of St. Johns and Ellie Stanton of Hillsboro, both wearing their best princess dresses - were accompanied by first-timer Nico Johnson, age 1.
While Nico was having typical rookie Santa-visit issues (as soon as he was set on Santa's lap, he bellered like a brand new calf), Ellie and Paula jockeyed for position, eventually taking turns getting the bearded man's complete attention.
Once they were done and headed for the exit, they were asked what they'd asked Santa to bring them.
'I was gonna ask for a Princess Barbie,' said Ellie, not bothering to explain if she did or not.
At that very moment, Santa's helpers finished installing a new printer in the machine near Santa and the photo system was declared up and running. And the regular rush resumed.
The moral of this story is, it's not necessary to purchase official photos when you visit Santa Claus. Your child can go and see him, just to tell him what you want for Christmas - and you can take your own pictures, too.
Santa Claus will be on duty at the mall now through Dec. 24.
In other St. Nick-related news, this year, Washington Square has added a new time-saving twist with its 'Santa Fly By' program.
Guests can simply call, text, visit the Santa set or go to ShopWashingtonSquare.com and get a place in Santa's virtual line. They'll receive an approximate wait time and a 15-minute reminder when it's their turn to tell Santa what's at the top of their list. All the details are posted right outside Santa's workshop.
Also, this Saturday will feature Breakfast with Santa at the mall, where families can enjoy a morning of arts and crafts, a hot breakfast and entertainment. The morning culminates with Santa's arrival and Christmas carols. The breakfast is always popular and seats are limited, so get your $5 tickets in advance from Guest Services, across from Summit Court.