Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Santa Claus, the Spirit of the Mall, Is Back

Santa Claus with a client at the King of Prussia Mall, December 2022. Mark Makela/Getty Images North America

Santa arrives at the Grove, the outdoor luxury shopping center in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District, in dramatic fashion: His red sleigh, with eight tiny reindeer, arcs over the mall’s central fountain, framing the 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. Reservations are recommended for Santa’s Workshop, decorated to look like the gooiest of gingerbread houses. And despite December temperatures hitting the 60s in LA, faux snow falls nightly at 7 and 8 p.m.

As Americans mark their return to in-person shopping this holiday season, they are also coming back to the mall, where Mariah Carey still reigns, giant baubles hang from the rafters, and Santa presides over his village. Santa, after all, is the spirit of the mall — a little bit nostalgic, a little bit exciting, and a whole lot commercial, with photo sessions starting (at least at the Grove) at $50 for the Holly Jolly package.

This combination of community and commerce has been part of the mall’s DNA since its birth. Southdale, America’s first indoor mall, created a jingle advertising “Southdale’s Wonderland” in 1956, its first year. And yet the mall Santa can also seem entirely now: What could be more 2022 than an immersive Yuletide selfie station?