At Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a century-old tradition is going digital.

I’M A SUCKER FOR a mall Santa. Carols playing quietly to subdue antsy children. Glitter on your coat from leaning on the candy cane picket fence. The serious kids that bring carefully written wish lists. It’s cheesy and it’s profit-driven, but in my books, it’s pretty cute.

The thing is, as a childless adult, I can look at the scene all soft-eyed and nostalgic, then keep on walking to Cinnabon. For parents, I know, it’s a more taxing experience. Three-hour waits, fidgety kids, and overpriced professional photos.

This year, the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto is launching an alternative to those long waits. The shopping center is skipping the Santaland tableau entirely and putting Saint Nick online. At the mall, families can book 10-minute Skype sessions with Santa Claus, sharing wish lists and Rudolph questions from the comfort of home, without the mall mobs.

Santa will be appearing in person at the mall for hourlong storytimes on weekends. Parents can book their children to hear a story from Santa and meet him briefly. Families coming to the mall outside those designated few hours? You’re outta luck.

Canadian news outlets seem to be having fun covering the story with disappointed parent soundbites. These interviewees roll their eyes at the online experience, expressing disappointment in the famous Toronto mall and saying that a real hug from Santa is worth the wait for their kids.

When I heard the news, my instinct was to scoff along with those irked parents. I have fond memories of lining up to meet Santa, feeling joy and awe at meeting the man himself. My parents still treasure those early photos of my brother and I on Santa’s knee, sporting 80s neon snowpants and matching haircuts.

Then again, 21st century children have a different relationship with technology. Growing up surrounded by screens, maybe they feel just as fulfilled from Santa-Skyping as my generation did seeing him in the flesh.

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