On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my sister sent me a video of my nephews, 9 and nearly 4, visiting “the big guy” at the Mall of America’s “Santa Experience,” which by all accounts is one of the slickest operations this side of the North Pole. It not only features an elite stable of truly convincing Saint Nicks, but these guys study the dossiers of every kid who climbs onto their faux-felt ensconced laps. They’re versed in ages, education levels, report cards, extracurricular activities, you name it.
Still, ever the hardened cynic, my first response was one of incredulity: “Santa Claus in November?” My second instinct, however, was to pump my fists in celebration because both nephews made it onto the “nice” list and one of them is getting a snowmobile in his stocking.
But to hear my sister tell it, there’s nothing nice about scoring a date with Santa Claus, even in November, and some parents can be downright naughty as they compete for a time slot in the crowded Christmas queue.
When the bookings open on Nov. 2 at 9 a.m., the demand is so high that the website inevitably crashes. Even with a deep bench of a half-dozen Santas, the narrow reservation window leaves little margin for error. Moreover, in an effort to preserve the narrative continuity of their child’s cherished beliefs, most parents bid on the same Santa as the one they had the year before, which is a difficult ruse given the high rate of retirement among this particular workforce. (Apparently there aren’t a lot of entry-level opportunities to play Father Christmas.) For example, Nephew Miles and Nephew Arlo were accustomed to sitting on Santa Sid’s lap, except Sid moved to Boca after the pandemic because social distancing made it hard to hear what the children wanted for Christmas.
Enter Santa Sam. A veteran of the industry, Sam’s clearly a bona fide pro, but his Santa-suit subterfuge is beginning to wear thin on the older nephew, Miles. According to my sister, “they’re both stumped by how he knows so much about them. Miles says this isn’t the real Santa, just one of his helpers, but he’s still impressed.”
Here’s the thing: Whatever doubts he’s harboring, Miles is keeping them to himself because he doesn’t want to spoil it for his little brother.
“From what I can tell, Miles fully believes there’s a Santa,” my sister reports, “but he said he wouldn’t tell Arlo this wasn’t him to, in his words, ‘keep the magic alive.’”
So, even if getting a seat on Santa’s lap is about as straightforward as nabbing tickets to a Taylor Swift concert — or, more colloquially, a reservation to drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park — the magic is as potent as ever. Even an inveterate grinch like me has come around to the idea of a date with Santa in November — I mean, even with his elves working in shifts, the old guy needs at least a month of prep time.
It’s not all that dissimilar to how the magic is made over at Flathead Living, where for the past few months a team of helpers has been hard at work reporting and photographing and writing the stories you’re about to read.
In our winter issue, we examine the rich tradition and evolving history of avalanche education in the Flathead Valley and profile two brothers whose Nordic influences are shaping the Flathead Valley’s landscaping and building aesthetic. We feature stories about a classically trained chef’s journey to Whitefish, some seasonal secrets to spice up your dinner table and some suggestions for cafes to cozy up to with a good book. Reading recommendations? We’ve got you covered. We also share insights into the finer points of high-end sauna design and let our local fitness guru unpack the latest trends in health and exercise. We’ve got a story about a homegrown rock band with a dedicated fanbase and another about shifting trends in arts and culture.
I might not have the beard or bone structure to play Santa, but as managing editor of Flathead Living, I hope you all find a little magic in the stories before you.
Season’s greetings and many thanks for reading.