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Santa hears wishes of old and new
Gracie Lance, 3, hops on Santa’s lap Wednesday afternoon at Lakeshore Mall to tell him what to bring her for Christmas this year.

Parents’ wallets may be a little thin this year, but kids sitting on Santa’s lap are still wishing for the stars.

Terry Sloan has been playing Santa Claus at Lakeshore Mall since Nov. 21. He said he has heard hundreds of children’s Christmas lists.

"I’ve had a few requests for shoes and clothes and stuff like that," he said. "I’ve had a couple of children ask for their mother to have a good Christmas. But the general rule is kids ask for electronic toys. I think their parents are doing a pretty good job of not letting them know what their financial situation is for their well-being."

Sloan said at Santa school, he was instructed not to promise kids anything in case parents aren’t willing or able to fork over the big bucks for the latest video gaming system or dirt bike.

"Santa Tom" at the Mall of Georgia said he has had thousands of youngsters on his knee since Nov. 5. He said some kids ask for boots and coats, but they want UGG boots and designer coats.

Regardless of their financial stability, kids are still asking for video games, laptops and iPods, he said.

"They might know it at home, but this is a dream time of year for them," he said. "It’s a magical time of year. I’ll always tell them, ‘We’ll see what we can do this year. You can’t always get everything you asked for. I’ve got to spread it out for all the kids all over the world.’"

Jim Begley is what he calls a "casual Santa" who makes home visits and the occasional retail store appearance. He said he’s played Santa all over the Southeast from Gainesville’s Corner Drugs store to Alexander City, Ala., and Spruce Pine, N.C.

He said while business has declined for his services over the past two years, he has seen no children this year who are pleading for necessities.

"In some cases, the parents don’t take them to a Santa experience at the mall because they’re oppressed financially, I’m guessing," he said. "... It’s out there very subtly, but it doesn’t weigh at all on the spirit of Christmas."

Sloan compares hearing children’s grandiose Christmas lists and excitement about seeing Santa to coming home to your dog after a long day’s work.

"When you see that tail wagging, that’s something that money can’t buy," he said. "When you sit them on your lap, you see the joy and it’s just special. To me, that’s what Christmas is about."