Santa Claus is a judgmental bastard. With his presents for the good, coal for the bad, and twice checked list – who does he think he is, telling us how to live our lives? It is only right and proper that Adelaide’s Santas themselves endure the same scrutiny forced upon boys and girls the world over.
We set out on a yuletide mission to scrutinise Adelaide’s Santas. It wasn’t just for the vengeance of judging the judge; for those who have young children, or are themselves young of heart, paying Santa a visit is a Christmas necessity.
It can, however, be fraught with peril; long lines, expensive prints, and snarky elves will corrode Christmas cheer faster than you can say ‘socks and underpants?’
As an early Christmas present, we have done all that draining, painfully merry legwork for you.
Burnside Village provided an immensely pleasant Santa experience. There were no elves per se, but the photo technicians were warm and informative. The most notable feature on offer, they said, was the new ‘electronic’ queuing system which alerts one remotely, and affords you time to wander around the mall while you wait.
The Burnside tree seems to have shrunk since last I saw it.
Burnside village also offers some elaborate Christmas-themed amusements:
The glass ceiling, though a classy touch, does make for a regrettably top-lit photo. Official photographs have a complicated lighting system to counter this, and your photo will no doubt look much brighter than mine.
The Santa was friendly and funny, but perhaps a little rusty on his Santa knowledge. When I asked him if he could name all of the reindeer, he responded with a laconic “Yes.”
Certainly, he was the ‘hippest’ of all the Santas, eschewing the traditional boots for these oxfords:
Prices: Starting at $20 for a 6″ x 4″ print, Burnside Village offers a premium product for a premium price.
Did he let me sit on his knee? No.
MYER – CBD
There is a war raging in Rundle Mall. David Jones’ The Magic Cave reigns supreme, and many of their competitors are running scared; Harris Scarfe don’t even have a Santa this year. Myer, with Santa Land, are making a red hot go at dethroning DJs.
There’s quite a queue to see the Father Christmas, but Myer have gone a little overkill on the security. To get to Santa you have to make it past four guards, three gates, two doors, and a train. Most prisons aren’t this uptight.
Actually, gingerbread man, we can catch you. Then we can tear off your arms and impale you and your family on metal spikes.
Within the compound, everything is Santa themed. Perhaps the Santa-bin was a bridge too far:
Ho-ho-hurph! Get it out!
When one finally got to meet the big man himself, one was very impressed with the decor. The fan – while not, perhaps, keeping with the North Pole theme – was a welcome addition. The Santa was jolly and approachable, even if he too proved unwilling to name all the reindeer.
Points must, sadly, be subtracted as, for half a second at the very start of the interview, the Santa broke character.
“What’s your name?” I asked, cunningly.
“Gu – Santa! It’s Santa!” he replied.
Prices: $27.50 for a pack of two 15 x 20 cm prints. Cheaper per print than Burnside, but entry cost is higher.
Did he let me sit on his knee? No again!
WESTFIELD – TEA TREE PLAZA
The geographically sensible next choice would have been David Jones and the hallowed Magic Cave – but upon arrival to that store, one was informed that one needed to book ahead online as there was a 2-hour wait. A booking was made, and one skipped on to the next venue.
The most notable thing about Westfield’s north eastern branch is that TTP have not gone to quite the same level of effort as their competitors:
The second thing to note is that, while at previous stores there were no crying children to be seen, at TTP we got 6 weepers back to back. In front of me, a mother tried to avert disaster. “You’re not going to cry, are you?” she asked her already bawling child. The photographers have dog toys they squeak at the children to coax them out of their tears. But it does not work.
Westfield have even built in advertisements where it is understood that, of course, your children will have a breakdown:
I asked the Santa about this phenomenon. “Yeah. Every other kid cries. It is how it is”.
Santa has, perhaps understandably, had quite enough for one day. He asks me what I want for Christmas. “A car”, I respond.
“How good have you been?” He asks.
“What is it to be good?” I rejoin. Santa is tired, and not interested in existential discussion.
“You’re a big boy. You should know by now.”
Prices: Starts at $19.95 for a 6″ x 8″, or two 4″ x 6″ photos. The cheapest surveyed.
Did he let me sit on his knee? No. Is it me?
WESTFIELD – MARION
Westfield’s “ALL WE SEE IS JOY” slogan, so charming at TTP, becomes Orwellian when put on a giant revolving obelisk.
Only out in the suburbs, beyond the reach of the Godless, inner-city intellectuals, the true spirit of Christmas gets a mention.
What Christmas is really about: sneans.
We were now past the halfway point, and I was exhausted. Luckily, the Santa at Marion was overflowing with cheer. I asked if he could name the reindeer. “No!” he laughed. “Can you?”
When you’ve got a good Santa, it’s like nothing else matters.
Prices: Starts at $19.95 for a 6″ x 8″, or two 4″ x 6″ photos. Same as TTP.
Did he let me sit on his knee? No. Maybe it’s because I’m a grown man?
DAVID JONES – CBD
I am sorry to report that never in my life have I had a worse Christmas experience than at David Jones. Despite being forced to suffer the indignity of going through a convoluted online booking process, DJ’s was not well attended when I returned.
As with all the other locations, I asked if I could take some photos. Every other Santa crew had been happy to oblige, and refused to let me pay them.
“Oh no, you can’t take photos inside the Magic Cave” said one elf, when I explained why I was there. “David Jones wouldn’t like that. You can get a photo with Father Christmas, but you’ll have to pay for it.”
She spoke in a hushed, terrified tone. I was directed to another elf, and then to a series of staff members, and then to a manager. All of them spoke about David Jones as though he were a living human being, watching and judging their every move.
I agreed, in the name of journalism, to pay whatever was necessary, and was lead to a corridor with five doors down one side. I could hear ho-ho-ho-ing coming from several of the rooms. Surely, this would be enough to spoil the illusion for all but the dullest children. When I met my Santa, not only was he not wearing a Santa hat (instead he had a tinsel crown), but he broke character and told me his real name. The seat was uncomfortable, and the backdrop unimpressive.
Leaving the chamber, I went to collect my photograph – paying for the cheapest option which, nevertheless, was priced higher than all the other stores. The process of actually getting the print was a terribly convoluted process; I was bounced from counter to counter several times. Asked if I wanted a digital copy of the photo for my article, I was then informed that the pleasure would set me back $3-$10. I grit my teeth and consented to the price gouging, handing over my email address and money.
I never received the digital copy. Here’s one I made myself:
The picture also came with a paper frame. You will note that in no way does the picture fit inside the frame.
The messaging here is clear. David Jones offer two sizes of photograph – a cheap one and an expensive one – and then give you a frame that you can only use if you decided to cough up the clams for the big picture, as a shameful reminder of your poverty.
I emphasise that all of the actual staff members at David Jones were as helpful as they felt they could be, and seemed like nice people. The Santa was probably doing the best he could under the circumstances. On a top, executive level, however, something has clearly gone awry at David Jones, perhaps going all the way to the CEO (Christmas Experience Officer). It was a depressing end to the adventure.
Prices: Starts at $22.95 for two 4″ x 6″ photos. Not only the least pleasant Santa experience, but also one of the most expensive.
Did he let me sit on his knee? Ye–no. By this point I shouldn’t have been surprised, but after the photo frame dimensions fiasco this came as a fresh blow.
The titans of yesteryear have grown decadent. Magic Cave? More like Tragic Cave! Yet, elsewhere, it’s an exciting time on the Santa circuit. There’s new, innovative Santa technology, delightful set design, and some top tier Father Christmases at work.
It was, almost certainly, not the most efficient way to visit all the stores.