Children are the heart and soul of the holiday season, but for an overworked Santa Claus, they can be a real pain. That's what Steve Anderson discovered through a friend who played Kris Kringle each year at a local shopping center. "He was very good at it," Anderson says. "But he had to retire. With that kind of close contact with kids, he ended up catching every illness that was spreading around."

As a designer and national marketing director at Corman & Associates, a Lexington, Ky.-based retail fixture and display manufacturer, Anderson was in a position to make the holidays a little jollier for part-time Santas.

His creation, called the Perfect Santa Chair, features cushioned bench seats on its armrests, where children both naughty and nice can sit down and share their wish lists without sharing their coughs and colds. "This chair has steps for kids to climb," he says. "Santa doesn't have to lift the children, and they don't sit on his lap. This cuts out a lot of communicable contact."

Some malls use benches rather than chairs for the children to sit on, but the children are down so low they can't reach Santa, he says. Having the children sit on the armrest seats allows for a more balanced photo. With a cushioned bench at either side of Santa, two children can have their photo taken at the same time, a situation that could prove uncomfortable in a conventional chair, he says.

The final prototype, at 77 inches tall and 54 inches wide, is not much different from the conventional chair used at most mall Santa displays. Two Christmas ornaments decorate the top of the two posts that form the chair's back. "The chair is mostly made of wood," Anderson says. "The two columns are PVC pipe covered in wood veneer, creating a substantial-looking piece of furniture without the weight."

The seat is actually a flip lid with a stowaway compartment for treats, costumes or Santa's white gloves. Anderson says Corman & Associates can personalize a chair to blend with any shopping center's existing Christmas trim package. "We can use different colors and finishes so that the Santa chair looks as if it were part of the original package."

Long lines and cranky kids can dampen the holiday spending spirit, but a jovial Santa can remind shoppers what the season is all about. Anderson says the Perfect Santa Chair will keep Mr. Claus, his elves and his pint-sized visitors in the proper spirit. After all, who needs a grumpy Santa?