Before Santa delivers his toys to the children of the world he's got to do what he always does in the yuletide season: hit the mall. Santa's got the magic to appear in multiple places at once, but not all of his guises and get-ups are equally filled with Christmas wonder.
THE DUFFERIN MALL
Dufferin Street and Bloor Street West
Overall rating: 6 candy canes out of 10
Winter wonderland? There's a big, high-backed chair that the big guy sits on and several trees that are nicely decorated, but there's a strict efficiency at work here. Kids enter from one side, march straight to you-know-who, sit on his lap, tell him what they want, have their photo snapped and then march straight out the other direction. There are baubles on the trees, but really, there's no frills here.
If it was a character in a Christmas movie it would be: Frosty the Let's-do-what-we've-got-to-do-and-then-go Man. There's nothing inhospitable about this Santa and his set-up, it's just that once you've ticked off the essentials – kid on Santa's lap, photo – you've got to go, man.
Stocking-stuffer bonus points: The large variety of Christmas kitsch you can buy featuring your kid's picture, including a music-box snow globe and a frame that lights up.
Sheppard Avenue East and Highway 404
Overall rating: 7 candy canes out of 10
Winter wonderland? Santa's got himself a high-gloss little set-up at the Fairview Mall. There are frosted Christmas trees, giant toy soldiers, a big wreath above his huge red chair. One of the first rules of Christmas is that Santa should be in classy digs. It helps the kids to smile, even if it's just the bare-bones efficiency of the Dufferin Mall all gussied up.
If it was a character in a Christmas movie it would be: The Ghost of Christmas Sparkle. Put enough oversize decorations and toys in a space and you can make even the most basic holiday tradition seem magical enough.
Stocking-stuffer bonus points: The red chairs at the espresso bar are a nice seasonal touch and great for when Mommy and Daddy are tired.
SCARBOROUGH TOWN CENTRE
McCowan Road and Highway 401
Overall rating: 8 candy canes out of 10
Winter wonderland? You know what kids love? Magical pathways. Adults are tired and defeated and pressed for time, so we want to walk straight to where we need to be. Kids? Magical paths. The red-carpeted dreamway at the Scarborough Town Centre leads kids over a little bridge, past a map of Santa's delivery route and some massive snow globes, and around a corner to reveal Mr. Claus waiting with a smile.
If it was a character in a Christmas movie it would be: Rudolph the Decorator Reindeer. There are plenty of fun details to fill out the experience, including the map of Santa's route and novelty newspapers of yore. And really, the more yore, the better.
Stocking-stuffer bonus points: Minus 20 points for the fact that Santa has a fake beard. Kids might not notice, but come on!
YORKDALE SHOPPING CENTRE
Dufferin Street and Highway 401
Overall rating:7 candy canes out of 10
Winter wonderland? Kids walk down a fake-ice path past the biggest tree you've ever seen before arriving at Santa, who is sitting on a large purple seat that kind of looks like a sleigh, if Rudolph got replaced by Prince. Candy canes were deducted because Santa's helpers are wearing their civilian clothes. Really, how much can it cost to rent a few elf outfits? Or even just a festive hat?
If it was a character in a Christmas movie it would be:Jack Frosted Tips, the Fancy Boy of Winter. The icy design theme doesn't really scream Christmas joy for tots, although it is pretty striking.
Stocking-stuffer bonus points:The "fast pass" lineup for parents who drop $3.50 to pre-order online.
The West Mall and QEW
Overall rating: 10 candy canes out of 10
Winter wonderland? This where dreams come true, people. There's enough running-around room for your kid to practice his Olympic floor dance routine, but this is so much more than letting tots frolic while they wait to get on St. Nick's knee. The "Santa Experience" lets kids have 30 minutes with a Santa who will read stories and play games with them. Christmas is about peace and love and not judging, but really – let's face it – all other Santas suck compared to this Santa.
If it was a character in a Christmas movie it would be: Whatever character makes all your kids' dreams come true while giving you half an hour to shop. Or, The Grinch Who Stole Hope From Procrastinating Parents, depending on how bummed you are that the "Santa Experience" is sold out for the season.
Stocking-stuffer bonus points: With all this, you still want bonus points? Keep it up, Greedy, and you're going on the naughty list.