A Doug's Life: Catching the Santa Spirit

Do you remember sitting on Santa's lap?

My memories are sketchy, but once in a while it comes back to me -- especially at this time of year. And of course it helps to have old photos, like the shot of the handsome little man pictured here with old St. Nick.

This photo was taken around 1959 in front of Hinshaw's Department Store in Arcadia. In those days, Hinshaw's and the small shopping center surrounding it were a major hub for shoppers in the West San Gabriel Valley. At Christmas time, it was like a holiday playground for wide-eyed kids.

Strings of lights and colorful decorations hung high above Baldwin Avenue. Christmas music seemed to drift outside from every storefront. And inside a big red booth erected on the wide sidewalk in front of the Hinshaw's display window, Santa Claus welcomed the children, listening to Christmas wishes and handing out candy.

There we stood with our parents in a long line, sometimes shivering in the cold, fascinated by the big red Christmas bulbs and twinkling lights, our eyes fixed on the man in the big red and white suit.

Then I grew up. They built a mall up the street, eventually forcing Hinshaw's out of business. They narrowed the sidewalk along Baldwin Avenue to create a bus stop.

Santa hasn't been seen in front of that building since then. But you know what? He's always somewhere, and there are always kids around to sit on his lap. Here in Menifee, that will happen this weekend in our own "little" shopping hub, Countryside Marketplace.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive at 5:30 p.m. Friday to light up the Winter Wonderland Santa House by the food court at the Marketplace, located at the corner of Newport Road and Haun Road.

You know the Marketplace. It's your reason not to drive to Murrieta or Temecula for shopping and dining. Hey, they've got everything from a Target store to a Red Robin restaurant to The Beer Hunter sports pub and grill to In-N-Out -- with more than 30 merchants in all. I quickly learned that everyone around here knows where the Marketplace is.

But even the Marketplace doesn't always have Santa Claus, which is one reason to head out there with the little ones this weekend. If you've forgotten what it felt like to sit on Santa's lap, watch your children or grandchildren do the same thing. It all comes back real fast.

There will be plenty to do, even if you're too big to fit on Santa's knee for a picture. There will be carolers and horse-drawn sleigh rides. Santa will have a petting farm set up, and there will be treats for the kids. Santa and his elves will return for more of the same each afternoon through Dec. 20.

I'll be there in line with some of our little ones, if for no other reason than to look for the reaction of the kids when they meet up with the big guy.

A tip for those who plan to attend (besides getting there early): Encourage the little ones to sit on Santa's lap, but don't force it. They'll enjoy it when they're good and ready. If they're not ready, you'll know in about two seconds and approximately 90 decibels.

That doesn't mean they don't care, or that they don't want presents under the tree. It's just that they've never had a close encounter with a fat guy in a white beard and a furry red costume before. Be patient with them.

Besides, that's half the fun. You've got to admit, it's rather entertaining to watch the range of emotions displayed in the Santa House, whether it's your kid or someone else's.

I have no idea whether I ever cried on Santa's lap, but I suspect I might have, at least once or twice. I have several old photos showing me with Santa, including one when I was six months old -- with a smile on my face. But for some reason, I don't have another shot of me and Santa until the one you see here, when I was about 4. Did mom destroy the pics of me screaming like a girl when I was 2 or 3?

I don't remember whether my children ever cried on Santa's lap, and neither do they. My guess is, they did. With many kids, there seems to be that critical meeting, around age 2, when they're old enough to realize that mom or dad is abandoning them on the knee of a rather large stranger whose face they can barely see behind all that hair. But after the screams, mom or dad takes them back, everyone has a good laugh and someone sticks a candy cane in their mouth.

Tragedy averted. Then, when they turn 3 or 4, they're all smiles on Santa's lap and you're the one with tears in your eyes.

It's already happened with the grandkids this year in previous Santa encounters. Riley, who's almost 4, climbed right up on Santa's lap and smiled for the camera. This is the little girl who last year screamed bloody murder. Cameron, who just turned 2, had a meltdown and never made it to the big man.

Yeah, a good time was had by all. And we're ready to do it again Friday night.

So if you're in the neighborhood this weekend, stop by and say hello. We'll be out there -- the family, Santa, his elves, carolers, and a whole lot of other nice people.

And it's OK that the Marketplace doesn't have a Hinshaw's Department Store. It has Santa Claus and little children, and that's good enough for me.

Holiday Happenings at Countryside Marketplace

Friday, Dec. 16: 5:30-8 p.m.
Saturday & Sunday, Dec. 17-18: Noon-4 p.m.
Monday & Tuesday, Dec. 19-20: 3-6 p.m.


  1. I love your articles. They always put a smile on my face.

  2. Brought back memories for me. Growing up in Alhambra about the same time as you did in Arcadia (that's were the snobs lived) we had a Hinshaw's on Main St.(yes, that's the real name)The one store that had a little bit of everything. The memory of those department stores is one of the reasons I enjoy "Christmas Story" so much. The scenes of "Higabees" were very familiar to me. The inside of Higabees looked more like a Bullocks though. I remember when Christmas shopping entailed parking the Olds somewhere on Main St. and walking down with mom from shop to shop until we were done. And if us kids didn't give her to much grief, it was lunch at the counter at Woolworths. This was in the day when the word "mall" was something the dog wanted to do to the mailman. Then Santa Anita Mall was built and everything changed in what seemed overnight. But that's what things do. Change. Enjoy the articles from one of my "home boys". Look forward to more.

  3. Thanks, Paul. I appreciate your comments. They truly are great memories.