Usually occurring during the Christmas-themed episode, a male character gets a job at The Mall (or a department store in older works) as Santa Claus, either for a part-time job or as a last-minute substitute. Hilarity Ensues. We invariably see a series of kids on his lap doing things like questioning his authenticity as the "real" Santa Claus, attempting to pull off his beard, asking for extravagant or impossible gifts, or, in the most crass of Sit Coms, urinating on him out of fear. A common joke has the Mall Santa promising to deliver an outrageous gift come Christmas, much to the dismay of the kid's parents. If the character playing the Mall Santa is a cynical Jaded Washout/Deadpan Snarker type, he may comment on the materialistic behavior of the kids or the commercialism of Christmas. Added points if the Mall Santa is drunk. The female equivalent is being stuck in a Sexy Santa Dress and/or hideous "helper elf" outfit. In more outlandish shows with Speculative Fiction or Mundane Fantastic premises, the character may be the real deal after all. Occasionally one encounters a Jewish mall Santa.
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- The Capital One ad with the inversion of the beard pull trope-the kid on Santa's lap is the kid who's one of the Vikings in the commercial. He has a beard, despite the fact he's too young to, and Santa pulls it, which makes the kid say 'ouch'.
- In issue #378 of Incredible Hulk (by Peter David), Rhino (a supervillain) becomes a Mall Santa. He gives this advice to kids: "Give! Give! Give! You want everything handed to you! Why not do what I do? Take stuff! See it? Want it? Take it!"
- Archie comics have used this plot in many a Christmas themed storyline.
- Archie gets this job himself a lot. One year he tried to use it to get present intel from Betty and Veronica, but the girls saw through it and tricked him instead. Another year he learned the True Meaning of Christmas from some special children he met on the job.
- A one-shot Li'l Jinx featured the titular character pestering a mall santa about a letter she got.
- One Betty and Veronica double digest cover, in which a teenaged Betty is bothering a mall Santa.
- Yet another story featured Betty and Veronica as Mall Santas. This isn't counting the times they've just worn a Sexy Santa Dress.
- Justice Society of America: Ma Hunkel, the original Red Tornado, spent time each Christmas as a mall Santa. A group of crooks make the mistake of attempting to rob her mall on the Christmas Eve the JSA turn up to recruit her as their housekeeper.
- Mary Jane Watson gets a job as one of Santa's helpers in the Christmas display at Macy's Department Store. She feels more than a little silly in her Christmas Elves outfit, but she turns out to actually be pretty good at the job.
- The next year, Mary Jane plays the main role herself when the men who play Santa aren't available. She dresses up as Mrs. Claus and invites the kids to sit on her lap, explaining that Santa had a bad cold and he didn't want anyone to get sick, so she's filling in for him.
- In one Artemis Fowl fanfiction, Artemis's mother takes a five-year old Artemis Christmas shopping and makes take a picture with one. Artemis bluntly tells the Santa that he knows the man is a fake. The Mall Santa rolls with it, telling Artemis of the Santa Conspiracy.
Santa: Tell you what kid, it's true. I'm not the real Santa, you think only one man can run this operation? Santa sends his agents out to find out what the kids act and if they're really being naughty or nice.Artemis (quietly amazed): So how does he deliver those presents?Santa: You think one man could deliver all those presents in one night by himself?Artemis: So he doesn't work alone?Santa: Nope, he sends his agents to deliver presents all around the world and no one knows the difference.
- Artemis then resolves to uncover Santa's operations.
- Metal Gear Santa featured Old Snake dressed up as Santa Claus and Sunny and Otacon dressed up as elves.
- Time Fixers Nicktoons Of The Future features Danny Fenton playing a mall Santa, which is he explains is a way for him to afford presents for his children.
- Classic film example from a child's perspective: A Christmas Story.
- Bad Santa featured a thief working as a Mall Santa in order to rob the stores.
- Both versions of Miracle on 34th Street supposedly use the real Santa, Kris Kringle, as a department store Santa. In the original, it's Macy's; in the remake, it's Cole's. He's replacing a terrible, drunken Mall Santa, so bonus points there.
- Elf - Buddy, who knows the real Santa, is incensed when an impostor shows up at the department store he works in. He accuses the fake of smelling "like beef and cheese!" and gets into a fistfight with him. After that, the store gets a different Santa- who is black.
- It's funnier than that: the black Mall Santa is the manager of the toy department and Buddy's former boss, implying like hell they had no time to find a replacement.
- The European horror/comedy short subjects and the later film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale purport to tell the true story of where the red-suited entities seen in stores at Christmas actually come from. They're actually centuries-old cryptozoological wild men, captured and trained until they can be trusted to hold children on their laps without ripping them apart. That is, unless someone is foolish enough to do one of the things that enrages them... It's revealed in The Movie that these "Santas" are in fact just Santa's little elves. The real Santa is much, much worse. And most definitely Mall Santa material.
- In Home Alone, Kevin runs to find a Santa in time on Christmas Eve. He finds one getting into his car after quiting time. He quickly puts his beard back on and does his best Jolly Old St. Nick, but Kevin tells him not to bother. He already knows he's not the real Santa, but he knows he does work for him. The Santa just goes with it. Kevin then asks him to relay the message that he wants his family back.
- Look Who's Talking Now features Kirstie Alley's character having to work as a department store Santa's Elf. A kid asks her if she's an elf, and she replies that she's actually a Vulcan.
- The one in All I Want for Christmas is visited twice, due to Hallie thinking her first wish was phrased wrong.
- Hot Fuzz features a scene of Peter Jackson as Father Christmas stabbing Simon Pegg in the hand.
- The crime film The Silent Partner involves a mall Santa who turns out to be a bank robber...and then gets caught up in dueling gambits with a teller at the bank who wants to keep the loot for himself.
- Santa Who has a scenario where Santa falls from his sleigh and gets amnesia, and during the course of the movie, he ends up as a mall Santa for awhile.
- In the Discworld novel Hogfather, Death (who's already standing in for the real deal), attempts to replace the Hogfather at an expensive department store. Since he already has the Hogfather's sack, he horrifies the store owner by giving away wonderful presents, thereby heavily eating into the profits.
- Not to mention Death's failure to perceive certain human conventions regarding appropriate gifts for children. Such as the full-size, completely real broadsword he hands to a little girl, before being hastily convinced that a fully functional weapon might not be the best idea (he just turned the blade to wood). Or a girl wants a real life pony to be in her home... in a second floor apartment. Overall, he gives children toys that they actually want, rather than what their parents consider appropriate for them. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes not.
- In Nathan Englander's humourous short story Reb Kringle, Itzik, a devoutly Orthodox Jew, reluctantly takes this job because he and his wife need the money and he already has the requisite long white beard and big belly. Itzik takes in stride the typical annoyances of overly-greedy requests and attempts to remove his beard, but loses it when the child of an interfaith couple admits he'd rather celebrate Hanukkah.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, feeling the barghests, Miranda asks for direction, and is sent to the mall. Where they find that the Mall Santa is actually Father Christmas, who can deal easily with a pack of Hell Hounds/Living Shadows.
- In one of Harlequin's Romance Novels, the pairing are a pair of divorcees - the woman is manager at the store, which is an Old Established Business with an equally old, established rival (the competition between the two is even referenced as being akin to that between Bloomingdale's and Macy's) while the man is (at first appearances) a guy who's one bounced check from being homeless and focused on getting revenge on his Rich Bitch of an ex (who also faked evidence to make him appear to be a Domestic Abuser, effectively conning the judge into giving her full custody of their daughter). The guy is desperate for a job, but wants something seasonal - and she's desperate for a Mall Santa since the one they usually hire is getting on in years. The manager is also frequently roped into babysitting the store owner's grandson - who is also the unofficial vetter for the Mall Santas that are hired. The kid is mentioned as still believing in Santa, but justifies Mall Santas as being like heralds for the real deal - which also neatly explains, to him, why not all Mall Santas are equal: some have the calling and some are just in it for the money.
- In The Cat Who Went Into the Closet, one of the books from The Cat Who... Series, the main protagonist Qwilleran, an Uncle Pennybags man-about-town, is drafted into being the Santa Claus of the small town of Pickaxe. He takes things fairly well, but panics when he learns that he's not done because he's still required to do lap-sitting.
Qwilleran: M-er-r-y Christmas! Get me outta here! How do I get down? I'm not going back down that stupid ladder!
Live Action TV
- The Wonder Years: The fourth-season episode "A Very Cutlip Christmas" sees Kevin go to the mall (to buy Winnie a present) and he recognizes his nemesis, Coach Edward Cutlip, as Santa Claus. Instead of his overbearing, bullying behavior shown in class, Cutlip is shown to be very tender and kind to little children, a point he makes to Kevin when the two visit about their encounter. Kevin sees Coach in a new light and is rewarded with kinder treatment, but it doesn't last. Still, Kevin gets some new insights about Coach: the man he is at school (a pushy, overbearing teacher who tries too hard to get the most out of his students) and the man he is outside the classroom (a deeply insecure man who loves children and truly sees working with youths as his passion).
- Harry from 3rd Rock from the Sun was a helper for a mall santa, and mentioned that children over 16 years of age should not sit on Santa's lap. He was also horrified when he saw the mall santa remove his costume, as Harry had believed he was really Santa.
- Married... with Children.
- Considering that many of the kids' parents were neighbors Al didn't like, he told one kid to tell daddy to stay home when the mailman comes over. He tells a girl who wants a pony that he'll leave one under the tree, but if it's not there by morning, her mother chased it away and killed it...
- Al got a job as a Mall Santa in two other episodes — one on season seven and again near the end of the series' run after two young men replace Al and his Black Best Friend Griff at the shoe store.
- According to Jim. Jim gets into a minor car accident at Christmas time. The other guy gives him fake information. Later, Jim recognizes him as the mall Santa. Hilarity Ensues.
- Nip/Tuck, where a drunken Sean dons the Santa outfit.
- Monk, in the episode "Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa": Monk and Natalie go undercover at a shopping mall trying to locate the person Stottlemeyer suspects tried to kill him. To do so, this involves Monk being disguised as a Mall Santa, with Natalie wearing a wig to pose as his elf. Although the humor revolved around Monk's obsessive compulsive disorder and having to be up close to children.
- Kramer in Seinfeld.
- Kenan & Kel had Kenan playing the Mall Santa to earn the last bit of money he needs to buy a mountain bike he'd been saving up for. However, after getting his money he decides use it to buy gifts for two of the kids he met whose mother couldn't afford them. The real Santa rewards Kenan for his generosity by delivering the bike under his family's tree.
- Third Watch's Season 5 episode "The Spirit" had grumpy policeman Sully playing Santa at a toy store.
- Boston Legal had an episode in the first season where Alan Shore represents a mall Santa who's a Wholesome Crossdresser (not at work) in a court action to keep him from being fired because of it. This ends with Al Sharpton being coming into the courtroom and having no clue what he's doing, and saying "So give the world a black Santa Clause!"
- Thelma Harper takes on the job in the Mama's Family episode "Santa Mama", to fill in for her son Vinton, who lost his voice practicing his "Ho Ho Ho".
- Saturday Night Live
- An early fake commercial for "Santi-Wrap," a plastic sheet similar to disposable toilet seat covers, featured John Belushi as a slovenly, drunken mall Santa, thereby illustrating why such a product is necessary.
- A later SNL featured Master Thespian taking the job of mall Santa, seemingly without doing the research and winging it - even working in a hammy death scene.
- Then there was the Sally Field/Tony, Toni, Tone episode where Chris Farley's motivational speaker character Matt Foley plays a Mall Santa.
- In the Drake & Josh Christmas movie, Drake plays Santa, while his brother Josh plays Santa's sack (of toys). Drake ends up making a promise to a little girl that the two of them spend the rest of the movie keeping.
- There was an episode of That '70s Show where Red worked as a Mall Santa:
Little Girl: "I want a pony!"Red: "Ponies die."
- In the Naturally Sadie episode "A Very Sadie Christmas", Hal gets a job as a mall Santa and uses it as an opportunity to scam free stuff, demanding bribes from kids in exchange for promising to grant their Christmas wishes.
- Soul Man featured a mall Santa, also. With Rev. Weber's son having a technicolour yawn all over Santa's beard on both years he went to see him.
- A Twilight Zone Christmas episode, "Night of the Meek", stars Art Carney as an alcoholic department store Santa who despairs over not being able to help the poor people in his slum neighborhood - but in the spirit of the show, he finds a sack that magically produces presents on demand... then at shows' end he gets his own wish and becomes Santa for real. This episode also showed up in the 1985 revival series, with Richard Mulligan in Art Carney's role and William Atherton as the department store boss.
- Everybody Hates Chris, Julius plays Santa at the mall for extra money. When the children tell him what they want for Christmas, he makes them cry by telling them how expensive the toys/gifts are, how long their parents will have to work for it, and how they might not get what they want.
- Roseanne convinces her boss to let her play Santa herself, and the kids fall for it even though she doesn't remotely sound like a man. Jackie plays Mrs. Claus...as a drill sergeant photographer.
- The Sliders Christmas episode, "Season's Greedings" had Arturo become a mall Santa with Wade and Rembrandt as his elves.
- On Are You Being Served??, an episode dealt with the store employees' competition to be the Mall Santa.
- The cast of Glee encounter a rather Jerk Ass mall Santa, who promises dim Brittany that he will cure Artie's paralysis.
- Leverage: A mall Santa comes to the team for help because he was fired and the new mall Santas all seem to be criminals. Elliot ends up playing Santa for a while and is terrible at it, but Parker seems to enjoy her role as a Christmas Elf.
- In the Christmas Episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie realizes that when he was a child, everyone who came to his house dressed as Santa on Christmas had sex with his mom. A Mall Santa happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Charlie: Did you fuck my mom, Santa Claus?
- In the Christmas Episode of Round the Twist, Cool Old Lady Nell becomes a Mall Santa. It leads to her being attacked by the real Santa.
- 2 Broke Girls: The two girls get jobs as Santa's Helpers during Christmas in order to make a few extra bucks.
- Murphy Brown: Murphy uses her Intrepid Reporter skills to find the absolute best Mall Santa in the DC area for her son's first Christmas photo. Then when she gets there, it's his day off.
- The Brady Bunch had a rare aversion of the trope, a kind man who was very patient with the children, even one who asked for a huge list of things and clearly had Santa bewildered. The problem was when Cindy came to him with a selfless but impossible wish he didn't have it in him to it might not happen. (Thankfully, this being the Brady-verse, it did.)
- In the first Christmas Episode of My Two Dads, both Judge Margaret and the coffee shop owner take turns playing Santa. He gives all the kids footballs (being an ex-player himself), and she gives all of them books.
- Fountains of Wayne has a song called "The Man in the Santa Suit" about an unnamed guy doing this. He is not very good at it, but the song is from his POV, so it's pointed out that neither is anyone else.
- Bob Rivers, a parody artist, did a version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" called "There's Another Santa Claus" that is all about this basic concept.
There's another Santa Claus there / One at the mall and one in the window / Sitting in a velvet chair / Fat ones, skinny ones, tall ones, short ones / Cheeks so rosy and bright / That Christmas cheer smells a lot like beer / Call Santa Claus a cab tonight.
- The I Can Has Cheezburger site "Sketchy Santas", which displays odd, awkward and sometimes slightly scary moments with real mall Santas.
- In an often-reprinted strip, Linus tells Lucy that he wished the store Santa a Happy Hanukkah and discussed "Judas Maccabeus and the cleansing of the Temple" with him. "It's not often you find a Santa Claus interested in religion," he says...
- It also occurred in a later series of strips which involved Sally Brown expressing her concern that Santa could, "have a coronary in some kid's living room," and visiting a department store to tell the Santa there to watch out for his cholesterol and try to, "check for a crease in his ear lobes." She gets chucked out of the place and arrives home to hear news that a department store Santa had a heart attack and had to be rushed to hospital after a little girl caused a disturbance earlier on.
- In "A Berry Bear Christmas" on Bear in the Big Blue House, the kids were told that Santa Claus was busy, so they got to meet one of his helpers, Santa Hogg, at the Woodland Valley Mall, who was actually just regular character Doc Hogg dressed up.
Pip and Pop: Doesn't he look familiar?
- A random Santa Claus can be seen wondering the streets of Dobuita late in the year in Shenmue. He carries a bell, greets with "Merry Christmas" and everything.
- While not in a mall, there's a mission where you have to beat up elves belonging to a man in a Santa costume in the town square in Bully. The hobo Santa could also count.
- During the Feast of Winter's Veil in World of Warcraft, "Greatfather Winter" can be found in Ironforge and Orgrimmar, with both versions simply being surly actors hired by the goblin cartels commercializing the holidays.
- In the Team Fortress 2 comic "A Smissmas Story", Scout, Soldier, and Spy all end up being sentenced to community service for blowing up a mall santa training facility. Being Team Fortress, Hilarity Ensues
- In Kevin & Kell, Kevin takes a temp job as a mall Santa to earn the money to buy Kell's family heirlooms from her brother Ralph, who plans to sell them off anyway. He's surprised when ex-wife Angelique, herding her stepchildren from her (failed) second marriage, fails to recognize him. (It's pointed out to him that, with twenty children to keep track of, anyone would be a bit distracted.)
- Gabe from Penny Arcade worked as one.
- In PVP, Skull is accidentally pressganged into being a mall Santa while stoned on a bad orange julius and ends up telling a mother where she can buy the game console Francis had squirreled away for himself.
- In an early Something*Positive strip, Jason works as a mall Santa. A circle of children's heads demonstrates the inevitable questions posed to him. The final panel is someone asking him what he wants for Christmas, to which he replies, "A vasectomy."
- On top of this, though, the first girl on his lap mentioned how she'd asked for a kitten the year before, and instead got Tap shoes (metal plates on the heels and toes). Her mother told her to thank Santa for bringing them, and she decided to show them off, leading into a Curse Cut Short. Given just that experience, who can blame Jason for being a bit cynical?
- Multiplex has the Blogger play the part of a movie theater Santa, in which role he frequently argues with the kids' taste in movies, at odds with the jolly persona he's supposed to maintain. On quite a few occasions he loses the argument.
- The Ends has the crazy priest preaching from a mall Santa's chair.
- Psycho Mantis attempted to get a job as one in The Last Days Of FOXHOUND. He bounced when someone got ahold of his employee record (or, rather, complete lack of one). Ocelot, upon learning of it, becomes completely freaked out.
- In World of Fizz Fergo, already a security guard, was assigned to play Santa at the mall one year.
- Brad from The Class Menagerie was one, and approved of a kid's desire to have a shotgun for Christmas.
- Tariq dresses up like this to earn some cash in the KateModern episode "Grabbed By The Bells". "You think your life is a mess? I'm a 24-year-old Muslim man dressed as Santa!"
- A woman had to pose as Santa. Ponderous Woman
- Dragon Ball Z Abridged: In "Christmas Tree of Might," one of Turles' mooks had this job, and he was particularly nasty about it, dropping a fire truck on one kid's house and killing another because he asked him to get rid of his cancer.
Krillin: God, you are one of the worst mall Santas ever — right behind those ones that molest kids!
Minion: So I'm the worst mall Santa?
Krillin: Oh, come on!
- The Misadventures of Onipex and Pals had two in the second Christmas episode. One of which molested Jevik as a child.
- The eponymous Tourettes Guy aptly describes his dad as one. Big mistake.
Danny: Fuck you and every mall Santa that looks like you!
- Improv Everywhere has the "Mall Santa Musical" song about adults' desire to sit on a mall Santa's lap.
- An AsteroidQuest Christmas Special side-story has Polo and Rokoa in a Buddy Cop Show, currently looking for an important witness in a mall. When he's spotted in Santa's chair, Polo is extremely displeased, because it means that the only way she can talk to the witness without attracting suspicion from nearby crooks will be through making use of her diminutive stature to approach him a a kid.
- The Simpsons
- In the pilot episode, Homer becomes one in order to get the money to buy his family their Christmas presents. Bart finds out it's him when Milhouse dares him to rip off his beard.
- The much later episode "Kill Gil: Vols. 1 & 2" featured the title Jack Lemmon figure giving Lisa her wish in his guise as Santa, getting fired over it, and spending the next year sponging off the Simpsons. After the year has passed, Bart is still a ten-year-old fourth grader and Lisa is still eight and in the second grade.
- Batman: The Animated Series had hard-nosed gumshoe Harvey Bullock going undercover as a mall Santa. Let's just say there have been better candidates.
Kid: "You're not the real Santy Clause!"
Bullock: "Sure I am. Wanna see my gun?"Renee Montaya: (Dope Slaps him).
- In Inspector Gadget Saves Christmas, Chief Quimby is disguised as a Mall Santa in one of the series' more memorable extended gags.
- The Boondocks episode "A Huey Freeman Christmas" has a subplot where Riley, angry at not having received a Christmas gift he asked for in previous years, physically attacks the local Mall Santa with golf clubs and BB guns. After hiring a security guard for Santa does nothing to deter Riley, Uncle Ruckus is left as the only Woodcrest resident willing to be the Mall Santa, but none of the children who come to the mall are willing to accept a black Santa Claus as real.
- Stewie Griffin once got the short end of the stick with an Asian Santa.
- Dr Rockzo, the Rock & Roll Clown who does Cocaine, got a job as a Mall Santa after he was given a Get Outof Jail Free Card. Toki, who apparently believes in Santa Claus, ran into him.
- "Thats don'ts makes sense!"
- Skarr from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy. He nearly kills Billy, but no one intervenes (except the elves) until his beard comes off. Then, everyone beats him up for not being Santa. They also start a riot and burn the mall to the ground.
- Coco from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, who says she needed the money to pay off her vacation home. When Mac accidentally rips her beard off, she's fired and refuses to speak to Mac for the rest of the day.
- The main six in Recess meet a mall Santa in the Christmas Episode. Though out of frustration, he rips his beard off and asks his assistant if they can get the next mall Santa to cover.
- In "Dan Vs. the Mall Santa", Dan is actually an elf. However, a matter of opinion (plus the fact that the Mall Santa is a Jerkass) causes him and the faux Santa to bicker. In the end, however, Dan ends up getting him fired for beating him up, and takes his place as the Mall Santa.
- Zim abducts a mall Santa to gain information about how to use the image of Santa Claus to Take Over the World
Zim: Who are these grubby red bearded men who smell of ham AND VOMIT!
- In the Rugrats episode, "The Santa Experience", Angelica cuts in line to see the Mall Santa, and after she tells him the large amount of presents she wants, he tells her he isn't sure he can get them for her. Angelica then rips off his beard and runs through the mall, screaming, "Santa Claus is a fake! Run for your lives!"
- In Beetlejuice, the episode "Keeping Up With the Boneses" sees Beetlejuice forced to work off his credit card debt by becoming a badly-costumed Mall Santa (a pillow he's using as stuffing is visible), with Lydia playing his elf. Beetlejuice, of course, is less than happy about all of this.
- In A Pinky and the Brain Christmas, The Brain once tried to take over the World by posing as a Mall Santa. Given his diminutive size, it did not end well.
- In Rocket Power, the gang find an Embarrassing Old Photo of Otto and Reggie sitting on Santa's lap when they were younger, which features Otto crying hysterically. A subplot also features Tito auditioning to play a Mall Santa.