Santa Claus is sick of lines, too.
For years, Pierce County parents had to squeeze photographs with Father Christmas between shopping for gifts at the South Hill Mall or Tacoma Mall.
But this year Santa and his colleague, Steve James of South Sound photography business Images and Events, were determined to bring cheer back to the tradition.
James wanted to remove stress for parents by creating an immersive experience that goes beyond a quick snapshot after hours of standing in line with fussy kids.
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Santa was glad to get on board.
“By the time they get to me, they’re not happy,” the jolly man told The News Tribune.
So, Images and Events took Santa out of the mall and brought the North Pole to the Washington State Fairgrounds.
The project was made possible by an online crowdfunding campaign, which reached its $25,000 goal Nov. 4.
“It’s been more intimate,” James said. Lots of parents have praised the new approach, he added.
Photography appointments are completely booked for the duration of the event, but there are plenty of activities for families.
Kids dressed in holiday sweaters, dresses and costumes scurried around the more than 25,000-square-foot North Pole at the Fair on Thursday. It features holiday-themed activities and displays, including Santa’s house — complete with a reindeer stable and an office for writing letters to old Saint Nick, among other fun rooms.
Guests are greeted at the house’s entrance by a giant Christmas tree and a cozy armchair in front of a makeshift fireplace.
There’s a library filled with children’s books, a candy cane crafting table suitable for elves, and a big-screen television with Christmas movies playing for families waiting for photography appointments.
In the back of the house sits Santa himself, in a quiet room carpeted in red and filled with bright Christmas trees.
“I like to see the kids get a chance to go and play instead of standing in those lines,” Santa said.
Before, when Images and Events took photos at the South Hill Mall, James said kids would stand in line with their parents for two or three hours at a time.
The North Pole fixed that problem, he said.
The Williams family of Gig Harbor was grinning ear-to-ear Thursday when they pulled back the red curtain and joined Santa.
Dressed as Mrs. Claus and an elf, 4-year-old Ava and 3-year-old Landan jumped on his lap and read parts of a Christmas book. Santa sent them off with a big bear hug.
Before running off to explore the North Pole, Ava told The News Tribune that her favorite part was simply having her picture taken.
Mother Christen Williams said the family plans to come back. She’s taken her kids to see Santa elsewhere three times, and Thursday’s experience trumped them all. She said she loves not having to stand in line for hours with “cranky kids.”
“It’s enjoyable for everybody,” she said.
Outside Santa’s house, dozens of kids worked on puzzles, built with Legos, made Play-Doh creations at a faux baking station and jumped inside bounce houses.
Mel Boye of Auburn was working on a giant snowman puzzle with his 8-year-old son, Brody, as they waited for their appointment with Santa.
“It’s good for little kids,” she said, adding that her family will likely attend the event again.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a day at fairgrounds without Fisher scones, which are sold in addition to doughtnuts and frozen yogurt.
Commercial vendors are arranged along the outskirts of the kids’ activities.
Smidget Animal Rescue of Auburn also has dogs to adopt out to families looking for a furry friend this holiday season.
Despite the many happy faces, Santa said even the North Pole at the fair isn’t void of tears.
“We still get some criers,” he said, chuckling.