Will he or won't he? Will this boy scream or jump for joy when Santa tries to pick him up?

Ho, Ho, Hum

IDAHO FALLS, IDAHO--All the holiday shopping, decorating, and partying this time of year can be overwhelming. But harried parents may want to consider freeing up their schedules by skipping the traditional trip to the mall so the kids can see Santa. New pseudo-scientific research suggests that kids these days aren't very pumped up about meeting the Jolly Old Elf. Experts say the work is provocative, but they have no idea what it really means.

Waxing nostalgic about his own childhood memories of the Christmas holidays, John Trinkaus, a professor at Zicklin School of Business in New York City, wanted to know how excited today's children are about visiting Santa Claus. So in early December, he stationed himself near Santa in two malls and watched how the kids reacted.

Out of 300 children, 82% appeared indifferent while waiting in line, he reports in the 8 December issue of the Annals of Improbable Research Online. Only two children seemed happy, and three kids screamed in terror, Trinkaus says. Sixteen percent looked "suspicious ... like there was a trap ahead." Meanwhile, "their parents were happy as birds, fluttering around, combing their children's hair." The data suggest that St. Nick is "one of yesterday's heroes," says Trinkaus. He concedes however, that he compared the reactions of the children he studied to his own happy experiences as a child, which could introduce bias.

The study supports the idea that the childhood myths about Santa Claus--and the Easter bunny and tooth fairy, for that matter--fulfill adult needs rather than a child's needs, says pediatrician Claude Cyr of the University of Sherbrooke, Quebec. However, he points out, the pained expressions on kids' faces could simply reflect discomfort in a public situation, rather than dislike of Santa. He says a more scientific way to determine the children's excitement would have been to actually ask them.

Others are skeptical about Trinkaus's results as well. At the Grand Teton Mall here, Judy Walker conceded that her granddaughter Sammi was terrified of Santa last year. "But Sammi's three this year and all excited." Santa Claus, meanwhile, says he can understand how some children would seem disinterested while waiting in line. "It looks like they're bored until they see [me]." But then they really light up, says Claus. For the children, meeting Santa "is kind of like meeting a very famous idol."

Related sites
A biography of John Trinkaus
His Santa study