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Santa Claus makes his Christmas season debut at Lakeshore Mall
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Santa Claus leads a parade of children, parents and elves Saturday morning through Lakeshore Mall as his arrival kicks off the holiday season.

Six-year-old Madison Traxter is a little too bashful to state what she wants for Christmas out loud, but she will whisper it to her grandmother, Kerri Hanrahan.

Madison, who enjoys taking pictures with her grandmother’s digital camera, would like one of her own for Christmas.

She’ll get her chance after Hanrahan took her granddaughters to see Santa Claus on Saturday when he made his seasonal debut at Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville.

Santa, who will be at the mall through Christmas Eve, paraded through the mall Saturday morning, and then got ready to take pictures.

Carol Pilcher, location manager for Santa Plus, the company that brings Santa to Lakeshore, said she enjoys watching the kids wait for Santa to arrive.

"They’re sitting over there just anticipating Santa getting here, and it is just adorable," Pilcher said. "It is such a thrill for them to get to see Santa."

Pilcher said that kids are good all year because they want Santa to bring them gifts, and they are in awe when they actually see him.

Taking pictures with Santa is part of growing up for many. When kids visit Santa at Lakeshore Mall, they are able to take their time with the jolly old fellow.

"The longer they are there, the better chance we have at getting a good shot for their parents and grandparents," Pilcher said. "We want them to look at the camera, but sometimes the pictures are so cute when they’re looking at Santa."

Pilcher’s mother still puts pictures with Santa out for people to see around the holidays, and she still smiles when she looks at them.

"Those are treasures that you keep forever," Pilcher said. "It is something that you want to keep doing throughout the years, from as early as possible until you are too big to sit in his lap."

Michael Slaughter, who assisted Santa at Lakeshore last year, came back this year because he enjoys the scenery and seeing smiles on the children’s faces.

"The younger kids, anywhere from 5 to 13, still believe that he’s the real thing," said Slaughter.

As he prepared to meet with the youngsters, Santa said it is important for young kids to keep believing as they visit him.

"If I can have them enjoy a short period of time, whether it be a minute or five minutes, and take their mind off school and bring them a little joy, then I’m good," Santa said. "To see the look on the children’s faces and the questions that they ask is very exciting."

Strapping on the red-and-white suit Saturday morning was especially exciting for Santa. After all, he hasn’t put it on for quite some time.

"It puts you in a different mode," Santa said. "Everything else goes out the window, and you just think, ‘I have got to be the best person that this suit represents.’"

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