Professional Father Christmas performers gather for an annual Santa School in London.

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Mall Santas and Letters to Santa

If you're ever strolling through your local mall after Thanksgiving, you might notice Santa Claus in the middle of the mall. There's probably an unbearably long line of children waiting for the chance to talk to Santa and tell him what they really want this year for Christmas presents. Perhaps you smile and wave, and Santa will smile and wave right back, laughing his deep, trademark "Ho, ho, ho!" and you'll move on.

Shortly thereafter, you might mosey on over to the other local mall, the one that's across the street. Wandering around from store to store, you might notice yet another Santa Claus, slightly different from the one you just saw at the other mall. How could this be? Is the mall some kind of portal between parallel universes? Is one the real Santa and the other a fake? Or are they both impostors?

Letters addressed to Santa Claus at the post office in Lapland, Finland.

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First things first: These Santas probably don't consider themselves to be "fake," and they may not appreciate the word "impostor." If anything, you might call them "messengers." Like Santa's elves, we believe that the most logical explanation is that they're an extension of the Santa's Helpers Alliance, aka, mall Santas.

Mall Santas are people just like you and me, but they must pass a few specifications in order to carry out their seasonal duties. They must be of similar build to Santa Claus. They must be in the appropriate age range of 50 to 60 years old, and they must sport an acceptable beard. Mall Santas must also graduate from a special Santa School, where they'll learn to laugh like Santa, eat like Santa and keep a snow-white beard like Santa [source: LA Times]. Could it be that Santa drew up the curriculum himself?

A mall Santa's job is simple -- he must ask children want they want for Christmas, make sure they've behaved this year, and then send detailed e-mail reports back to Santa Claus. A mall Santa's work accounts for about 33 percent of all gift requests, making them an important part of Santa's team -- the other 67 percent of Christmas wishes are sent directly to the North Pole by mail, of course. Nearly 100,000 letters make it out every holiday season to Santa's address at the North Pole.

Why would Santa need an alliance of Mall Santas? Even though he might make it around the world in one night, he couldn't be in lots of different places all at the same time. We'll have to assume that he's not quite there yet with the technology. For the moment, he has to settle with a complex but efficient way of collecting Christmas wish information.

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