A Florida mall started handing out pagers to parents this year, enabling them to go shopping or get a bite to eat until it is their child's turn to sit in the big guy's lap.
Patrons at the Pembroke Lakes Mall receive a black pager that glows red when they are 15 minutes from their visit with Santa.
"Welcome to the 21st century Santa Claus," said Jenifer Daigle, as she dressed her 7-month-old daughter, Madison, in a red velvet dress for her first photo with St. Nick.
Getting one's picture taken with Santa at this mall once required the patience of Job. Last year, more than 10,600 children came for the privilege, waiting up to four hours in lines that stretched past the fountains.
"We had kids falling into the water. We had a lot of children, by the time they got to Santa, their pants would be wet," said Lenor Ryan, the mall's general manager.
Parents and toddlers risked losing their place in line if they took a bathroom break.
"They get so whiny waiting," said Sue Westerfield, a mother of two young daughters. "They say, `I'm tired, mommy. When's my turn?"'
This year, 7-year-old Jose Fernandez ate a slice of pizza with his mother and sister while he waited to ask Santa for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Waiting in line last year, he said, "was a little bit boring."
The pagers are a big hit with Santa, too.
"The kids are in such a better mood because they don't have to stand in line for two, three or four hours," the man in the white beard said.
Sarah Scheuer of the National Retail Federation in Washington said pagers are gaining in use at shopping malls and department stores as a way to cut down on the wait for service.
A store in Birmingham, Ala., hands out pagers to parents waiting for sales help in the busy children's shoe department, and some Wal-Mart stores around the country are offering the devices to customers who drop off prescriptions to be filled, Doug Crisafulli, marketing director for Boca Raton-based JTECH, which is supplying pagers to two Florida malls.
By Ken Thomas © MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed