Kevin Riordan: Maybe a North Poler, after all, is entitled to a longer warm-up

Vincent Montana, 3, of Deptford, gets his turn. "Things are really starting toget crazy already. But we do this for the kids," Glendora's Michelle Clark said.
Vincent Montana, 3, of Deptford, gets his turn. "Things are really starting toget crazy already. But we do this for the kids," Glendora's Michelle Clark said.
Posted: November 07, 2010

Halloween is hardly over.

Thanksgiving is almost three weeks away.

And Santa Claus is coming to town already.

The Rotund Red-and-White One's arrival Friday at the Deptford Mall was complete with Mrs. Claus, a dancing Frosty, and a prancing Rudolph. Plus a string band and a magician named Joe Holiday (talk about seasonal synchronicity), who conjured up some Christmas spirit two days before the autumnal return of Eastern Standard Time.

"It's never too early as far as I'm concerned," said Tricia Natale, who commanded a great vantage point from among the hundreds of parents, grandparents, and kids near the small stage. "Anything that puts people in a good mood puts me in a good mood."

She's right: While the premature Santa assignment inspired my inner Scrooge, mere minutes with the merry mob of moppets were enough to, well, turn my silly old grown-up frown upside down.

So what if Black Friday sales now start in October, along with that all-Christmas-music-all-the-time format on Philly radio station B101 (so far only on the HD spectrum, but still).

"I love it. I absolutely love it," said Natale, of Blackwood. "I'm against people who say it's too early. I don't think it's ever enough."

Times are tough - just ask the Democrats - and people are watching whatever's left in their wallets. According to the National Retail Federation, after a disastrous 2008 and a mediocre 2009, holiday sales are expected to rise 2.3 percent to $447 billion this season.

So who can blame the retail industry, or anyone else, for wanting to jump-start Christmas?

Catherine Zabrodski of Mantua set up a lawn chair so she could relax while waiting with her daughter, Kathleen, and granddaughters Holly and Noelle (talk about seasonal synchronicity).

"The kids are getting anxious," Zabrodski says. "They want to see Santa."

Michelle Clark of Glendora brought her sons Logan, 5; Liam, 4; and Landon, 1.

"It is very early, and my husband and I are kind of torn," Clark says. "Halloween was just last week, and we're still eating candy!

"But the kids are all excited, now that all the commercials have started to play. Things are really starting to get crazy already. But we do this for the kids."

Mary Michalak of Deptford stood with her arms around her granddaughter Skylar Miller, 6, who lives in Moorestown.

Skylar had lost her first tooth just a few days before, and "I think Santa was waving at her," her grandmother said. Skylar, shy about Santa but a big Frosty fan, nodded.

When I inquired whether Michalak sensed some preliminary Christmas spirit, she said, "First, we're getting through Thanksgiving. Even [Skylar] says, 'Why's Santa coming so early?' "

This is the fourth year Santa has made his Deptford debut during the first week of November, well ahead of many local malls (although Oxford Valley's arrival in Bucks County was set for Saturday).

"An advantage to having him here at this time is that it allows our shoppers to get a photo of their child with Santa so they can include them with their holiday cards," Deptford Mall spokeswoman Felicia Pollaro said via e-mail.

After Holiday did several nifty tricks with cards, balloons, and "the world's biggest magic wand" (high-decibel delight all around), Santa, his wife, and their entourage made a "surprise" entrance.

Then they headed to the mall's center court, leading the crowd in a parade that gave seemingly every parent a chance to hold aloft a cell phone and capture the moment.

The event also was an opportunity for John Spiritoso, a landscaper from Magnolia, to enjoy the company of his 1-year-old daughter, Giana.

"I don't get too much time to bond with my daughter. My wife works at night, and I work during the day," he said. "So it's nice to get a little time together."

As the parade approached center court, first in line to see Santa on his golden velvet love seat were Andrea Reed; her mother, Toni Pavone; and her 13-month-old daughter, Gianna.

"Gianna wants a potty for Christmas," insisted Reed, of Paulsboro.

No wonder Grandmom described Santa's early arrival as a "wonderful" thing.


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com.

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