It began three years ago and it's become a yearly tradition that I call the "Black Friday Extravaganza." My daughter, Tara, and I along with my brother-in-law Johnny V and his two daughters go all over the Southern Tier shopping. Okay, I watch and they shop.

One of the places we go to is the Oakdale Mall. The girls decided to shop at Justice and take advantage of their going-out-of-business sale. Johnny V and I waited outside near the center court.

While we were waiting, we watched all the kids lining up to met the Mall Santa. He was talking to one child about his reindeer and telling him all of their names. The youngster was very curious and the Mall Santa was very patient.

So what is the Mall Santa? It's kinda like the "Elf on the Shelf" except Mall Santas don't lose their magic if you touch them.

Tara was less than two months old the first time she visited Santa and she loved him. The next year, she wasn't so happy to meet him. Tara once asked me about the 'Mall Santa.' I told her that the Mall Santas are helpers to the big guy in the red suit.

Here are some secrets of the Mall Santa:

He's not an orthodontist. Don't ask him to tell your child why he/she needs to stop sucking his/her thumb.

He's not a puppy. So don't pet him like he is.

It's hard not to sweat in the heavy wool suits. To smell nice, they sprinkle baby powder in their beards or evergreen scented colognes.

Sometimes kid's requests can be over the top. I was disappointed when I was 2 years old. I had asked for a monkey and a banjo for my birthday and when I didn't get it, I thought for sure I would get it for Christmas. I was wrong.

My patience was rewarded on my 52nd birthday, I finally got was a stuffed monkey but I loved it anyway. Here's a video of my surprise.

They love kids, but their favorite are the ladies they visit at nursing homes. When they sit on Mall Santa's lap, they turn into kids themselves and their favorite Christmas memories come pouring out.

One year, I was a mall reindeer. Trust me, it's not as glamorous as you think.

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