My daughter saw Santa for the first time the other day, hopping sprightly onto the stranger's lap like he was an uncle with Pez.

I was expecting tears and trepidation, dramatic fallout from a 3-year-old's initial encounter with the most powerful icon of childhood.

But my girl was all business, ticking off items on a carefully considered list. When she was done, she smiled and gave Santa a nod, looking like a pharmaceutical sales rep who'd just booked a big buy with a hospital.

I'm not saying there isn't magic in her Christmas reveries. I just didn't count on the leavening of wonderment with such a high quotient of gotta-have-it-now acquisitiveness.

It's not like she's the only one. Ninety-four percent of U.S. parents say today's kids are spoiled, according to a new poll conducted by the family lifestyle magazine

Cookie

, as well as AOL Money & Finance. Only 94 percent?

I want to stanch the budding consumerism, but try fending off the F5 tornado that is kid culture and see how you do.

I had a child partly because I wanted the magic, wanted to behold innocence unbound - a pre-beaten-down human, shining and hopeful.

Years ago, I saw some of that magic in the eyes of strangers' children when I played Santa in a New York mall for a story for that gritty tabloid the New York Daily News.

I was given a crash course in Santa-ing, which was essentially a list of don'ts: Don't say ho-ho-ho (it revs the kids up); don't touch the child anywhere but the upper arms (double duh); don't, under any circumstances, walk into the mall while the other Santa is around (if kids see simultaneous Santas, they will grow up to be miscreants and journalists).

That day I ate chili for lunch, a poor choice for close-in communication. Afraid of offending, I chewed gum before I took Santa's throne.

When I removed the Juicy Fruit, I forgot my big white beard, and the gum got stuck. So, the Daily News photographer offered me his knife (as a child, he must have seen two Santas drinking wine together).

There was St. Nick, hacking at his beard with a shiny, sharp blade, like you'd figure a tabloid Santa would. A little boy dropped his ice cream, then started screaming. The mall manager looked like he'd swallowed paint.

Before she put her son on my lap, the very first mom wiped lint off my leg without even looking at me, treating me like the prop I was. It reminded me of an old

Saturday Night Live

sketch that warned parents you never know where Santa has been, so you should use toilet-seat tissue paper to cover his legs before hoisting up your child.

But the kids were so sweet, I decided right then I had to be a dad.

When I asked my Mariela what she'd told Santa, she was evasive and coy, as though all Santa-child communication is privileged.

Materialistic, disingenuous, conspiratorial and misleading. Oh, it's hanky time. My little girl is growing up.

Contact columnist Alfred Lubrano at 856-779-3919 or alubrano@phillynews.com.