An hour with Mr. Claus during pet night at The Gallery

As he waited for the Monday night wish-list contingent to make its way to his lap on the Gallery at Market East throne, Santa Claus got to talking about how he got into this line of Christmas-season work.

It started seven, maybe eight, years ago on a Caribbean cruise. People deemed his bushy white beard as being unquestionably Clausian and his wife as being an onboard Mrs. Claus twin. First, the cruise-ship entertainers asked him onstage where he listed his home address as the North Pole. Then, he and Mrs. Claus realized the two front-row center seats were always reserved for their use. At the semi-formal dinner, they got a standing ovation.

“That really took me by surprise,” Mr. Claus said.

As they walked the decks post-dessert, children were rushing at him, tugging his leg, telling him what they wanted for Christmas. Saying “oh thank you, oh thank you” as he listened to their every word that Christmas Eve.

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In short, it seemed that his holiday life-path was being chosen for him. In the tropics, of all places. Not that he minded in the least. After all, he knew he did look like jolly old St. Nick.

But then, something else happened which stamped his Christmas passport once and for all.

Fate intervenes in casting a mall Santa

The setting: a Santa-less Granite Run Mall the next year.

“The elves approached me by the escalators. They said, ‘You know, you look a lot like Santa, and ours is out sick. Can you fill in?'” Santa recalled. “I’d never been Santa before. I think I had more fun than the kids.”

He donned the suit, loved the experience and has been Santa ever since, if he wasn’t all along.

In subsequent years, he’s come to relish the smiles and beaming eyes of children when asked what they want for Christmas. He’s come to learn that a simple “high five” can break the ice with a child who’s frightened by bright costumes and ruddy cheeks.

These past three Monday nights at six, though, have been something he’s never seen before: Bring your pets to see Santa night at the Gallery. Sure, it’s been in Santa’s contract for years, but until this holiday season, he had never discussed Christmas wishes with animals.

Animals like gifts, too

In the first two weeks, Santa said he saw about 12 dogs and one cat. They were all well-behaved. Even the cat, which came as a surprise since felines tend to have independent streaks. But, he does have rules.

“I haven’t had any rhinos or crocodiles or anything like that, so it’s worked out well,” he recounted before chatting with a couple of beaming brother-and-sister tandems and, among a handful of others, a girl wearing a tiara and pageant-like dress.

“No,” he said when asked whether he’d take gift requests from those animals. “A rhino weighs too much and a crocodile might take my head off.”

He had no problem, however, with Lilly, a Shih Tzu wearing a pink collar and purple jacket. Lilly’s owner, Jessica Keitt of South Philadelphia, recently brought the five-month old pup home from a breeder in Orlando, Fla.

“She’s really good with my five kids, but I’m a little scared about how she’ll react” to Santa, said Keitt, who predicted Lilly might ask for some women’s shoes since she has a penchant for gnawing on high heels.

Granted, Lilly squirmed a little bit once she got in Santa’s arms—they waited for a break in the children’s line out of concern for potential allergies—but she settled down, licking his face and trying to nestle in his beard. In fact, the only person who might be the least bit concerned is Keitt, whose holidays might have gotten a little bit more expensive than a $45 photo set and a few pair of heels.

“A Maserati,” Santa said of the Christmas request from Lilly. “And, she wants a Rolex too.”

Santa didn’t seem to mind, though. After all, he’s not buying. He does hope, however, that word gets out so he can meet more pets next holiday season.

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