From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, I am employed as a Santa’s Helper – not an Elf – at the Nordstrom on 6th and Pine streets in Seattle. 

 With such a profession comes the tedious, but rewarding task of providing the optimum experience for families during their visit to Santa’s Lane. The lane, which is created around a Nordstrom display window on the street, attracts hundreds of families each holiday season to come see a variety of Santas – such as multicultural Santas and American Sign Langauge Santas – for professional pictures and the opportunity to tell Santa what they want for Christmas.

The bright red carpets and touch screens lined the walls with crispy displays and neatly placed stuffed animals under the resident Christmas tree all awaited the arrival of Santa on Black Friday morning. I was actually excited to be one of Santa’s Helpers for the second year in a row – until my arrival at the Lane mid morning that Friday.

I arrived via bus that morning because I was not sure exactly how crazy one would have to be to actually drive into downtown Seattle the day after Thanksgiving – but clearly plenty of people were. The lane opened at 8:30, and there had been families outside on the street, dressed in their best, since 5:30 a.m.

Santa pictures are no joke.

There are about 10 Santa’s helpers working at one time, and we all had our own duties at the Lane. My task was escorting the families from the front of the line, up the ramp and around the corner to prepare for their Santa visit.

Such a task provides me with a constant form of entertainment – watching the children screaming "SANTA! SANTA! I CAN’T WAIT TO SEE SANTA!" at the front of the line, and then once it’s their turn for pictures, their tune switches to "NO! NO! NO! I DON’T WANNA SEE SANTA."

But do not worry, I’m not so cold-hearted that I only work on the Lane for the screams, tears and falling-outs of toddlers. Their tantrums simply keep my mind off the fact that I have to work an eight-hour shift.

Being Santa’s Helper is not all sugarplums and candy canes. It is exhausting on the mind, body and soul.

For example, since Nordstrom is known for optimum customer service, we at the Lane provide warm apple cider and fresh-baked cookies to keep the customers in a jolly mood. 

The incessant smell of holiday goodies, not to mention the overwhelming amount of steaming Starbucks cups at every turn, teases me every minute of my shift.

Every new batch of cookies and influx of apple cider constantly taunted me. Yes, I want to eat and drink you, but I cannot. The sweet, sweet taste of chocolate cookies is all I can think about, but the closest I could get was the minty taste of my Burt’s Bees lip balm.

The Lane is prominently visited by families, with children younger than 10, so that provides an ample amount of issues. With that said, what is perhaps the smallest, but definitely most vile part of being Santa’s Helper stands to be the millions upon millions of germs that are transmitted around the Lane.

I have yet to ask Santa how they do it. How can they keep the act going as a young girl picks her nose, rubs her eyes and sucks her thumb in a matter of 30 seconds? The kids were dressed in sweater vests and poofy dresses that would probably only survive one day, but it did not change the fact that kids will be kids.

A young boy visiting Santa will forever be engrained in my memory. After visiting Santa and taking photos, the children were given a candy cane – a sweet, sticky, easily broken candy cane. This boy threw his candy cane wrapper on the floor, came up to me and we discussed his family’s visit.

As I talked to him, I watched in horror as he proceeded to lick every inch of the candy, transfer it to the other hand and put his vacant hand in his gaping mouth, getting all the sweet goodness off. Repeating this disgusting act, I run for the nearest hand sanitizer disposal. No matter how cute they are, kids are still gross.

Please don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job at Santa’s Lane. Even though we do not have elaborate, sexy costumes (we wear vests), all the quirks, annoyances and tedious acts of incessant happiness are what the holiday season is all about for me.

Yes, the children that freak out at the sight of Santa, with his huge beard and scary stature, is always funny, but what is often better is the light in a child’s eyes expressing emotions that cannot be verbalized. 

Santa Claus, whether you find him scary or heart-warming, has brought holiday cheer to families all over the globe, and I am excited to finish out the 2011 holiday season as a part of his crew.