For many, the first signs of the yuletide season are pumpkins, turkey and football. At Pittsburg’s Meadowbrook Mall, Santa Claus, the jolly old elf, rings in the countdown to Christmas.

For many, the first signs of the yuletide season are pumpkins, turkey and football. At Pittsburg’s Meadowbrook Mall, Santa Claus, the jolly old elf, rings in the countdown to Christmas.

Each year since 1969, said vice president and general manager J. Todd Ewing, Santa has set up shop in center of the mall, making his list and checking it twice to see which of the hundreds of boys and girls who visit him have been naughty, or nice. At Meadowbrook, Santa appears for the first time each year on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day after Thanksgiving.

“It’s pretty much a tradition now,” Ewing said. “The shoppers and patrons count on us having Santa here. They’ve brought their kids, their neighbors have brought their kids. We’re going through generations here.”

Photographer Brian Shields has documented Santa’s monthlong stays at the mall for the past 11 years. He said Santa is as popular with children now as he was a decade ago.

“It’s pretty much the same as usual,” Shields said. “It picks up as the season goes along.”

Shields said he never tires of photographing the children who visit Santa each year.

“It’s fun to watch the kids come back year after year as they grow,” Shields said. “It’s all pretty good. It gets a little stressful when it gets busy, but mostly it’s great.”

There have been many memorable moments during his time documenting Santa, Shields said, but one stands out.

“I remember one little girl who was screaming bloody murder, and I had zero confidence we’d get her to sit with Santa,” Shields laughed. “But after working with her for a while we got her to sit with him.”

Santa did not want to give away his identity Friday. But The Claus, who retired from his previous job and has been listening to childrens’ wish lists since 1998, did talk about why he enjoys his job.

“I like talking to the kids, seeing what they want and telling them what you know,” Santa said. “The kids are sweet.”

It’s not just the youngsters who want to visit Santa. Sydney Markley, 14, and Kaitlyn Myers, 14, also wanted to pose with Old St. Nick. The friends could barely contain themselves as they examined their pictures afterward.

“We love Santa!” Markley laughed.

“Yeah,” Myers giggled. “He brings good gifts to us every year!”

Myers, considered the images of she and Markley to be “pretty hideous,” and said she likely won’t tell any of her friends about the photo.

But Markley said she thought the idea of keeping the picture to herself was nonsense.

“I’m going to show everyone, ‘cause I just had the best day ever!” she said.