If you want to gauge the mood of the nation in a given Christmas season, don't look to your local shopping-mall Santa Claus. More than likely, he'll be feeling the opposite. In recent years, with the economy humming along, mall Santas seemed ever more disaffected by their work, weary of the physical hazards (getting sneezed and peed on, having their beards pulled) and the political ones (having the phrase "ho ho ho" deemed derogatory to women). This year, though, as holiday spending tanks, the Santas seem weirdly upbeat, as children are reportedly looking to them not just for toys but for a measure of comfort as their parents struggle. The Associated Press spoke to a bunch of mall St. Nicks who positively glowed as they told stories of kids who are asking for less this year—or asking for help for mom and dad. "Every time a child goes away with a smile, I know I've done something good," says one. Seems that warming children's hearts is more fun when you don't have to stuff their stockings quite as full.
—Posted by Tim Nudd