It's easy to tell when Santa is about to start his day at the Crossroads Mall.
A line of eager children and their parents form, waiting for him to make his appearance, the children straining to catch the first glimpse of him walking through the corridor.
On his walk there Saturday, one surprised child squealed with delight, an adult moved in for a hug and, of course, Santa waved at all those who caught his eye.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Santa visits with Colby Bacon, 2, of Manson, Saturday morning at the Crossroads Mall.
It had taken him the better part of an hour to get ready.
"I get plenty of milk and cookies ahead of time," Santa said. "I need to fill out the suit and maintain my Santa figure."
That's right, no stuffing.
Once the children started sharing their want lists, he also offered to answer questions, the most common of those being: "Where are your reindeer?"
The answer to that is, like many things Santa-related, classified. He did reveal this, though: "Mrs. Claus drops me off and then picks me up," he said. "She spends the day with them at a secret location."
He was also able to reveal that not all of them come along. He uses his annual visit to the Crossroads Mall as a reindeer training exercise.
"We have a rookie or two," he explained.
This year, Santa's getting many requests for electronics, including the IPad and the Nintendo DS gaming system. He readily admitted that it's getting harder to track each new advance in toys and games. He's going to let the children's parents do that.
"I gave up trying to keep up," he said.
Another item that children keep asking for are the remote-controlled helicopters being sold by a nearby vendor who demonstrates them by flying the craft around the area.
"Eighty percent of the kids want one of those," he said, giving the thing a nod.
It's not just children who visit with Santa. Teens and adults come to see him too. Teens frequently ask for a boyfriend or girlfriend. Unfortunately, Santa does not have a dating department, but he will still send them on their way with a friendly wave and a candy cane.
He is also reporting that, for the most part, the children who are visiting this year are on his "Good" list. For the few who are otherwise, Santa has good news.
"You can redeem yourself right up to the last minute," he said.
He also gives "good" points for effort.
"As you long as you try," he said.
Santa is helped out this year by his chief elf, Roscoe. Together, they efficiently gather lists, check them twice and make sure that no errors are made. They do this on a special laptop loaded with NiceNaughtyList version 5.0.
They do get a little down time. After all, even Santa needs a break or two. How does he spend that time?
"We play reindeer games," he said.