“What do you want for Christmas?”

It’s the best question of the year, especially when the one asking it is dressed in red with a bushy white beard. I’m talking the Jolly Old Elf himself, Santa Claus.

It’s the question hundreds of children lined up for over two hours to hear at Ottawa’s Bayshore Shopping Centre on Tuesday.

So, what is the word in Santa’s ear just days before Christmas?

“A chocolate pen,” said 10-year-old McKenzie. It apparently writes in real chocolate ink.

“A Jumpy Jumper,” said 3-year-old Athelwyne. (A trampoline, according to Mom’s translation.)

“ZZZZZ” murmerd Athelwyne’s 1-year-old brother, William, who actually slept through his whole visit with Santa.

Others wanted everything from high heels to a horse as a steady stream of requests made their way to Santa’s lap.

Some requests were obviously a little tougher than others. “One actually asked for peace around the world,” admits Santa.

It’s just another day at the mall, providing that day is three days before Christmas.

“It takes a lot of patience, and to love the kids,” says Santa of his ironman stints in the big chair.

“Have you ever been peed on?” I ask. (Oh, admit it. You’re curious too!)

“No,” he answers slowly. “But there was some smelly stuff,” he laughs.

It doesn’t matter, not to Santa who loves visiting with children, or to the parents who wait over two hours for a quick visit and a priceless picture. (See: William, above.)

A visit with Santa can be magical. Somehow he knows just what to say, even when a child’s request is heartbreaking.

“I had a small girl,” he recalls. “About 10 or 12. When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas she said she wanted to be healed. I said what do you mean? And she said, well, I’ve got cancer.”

Santa’s answer? “You have to smile and live every day as you wake up, to be happy and believe that it’s going to work out for you, he says. And, much to Santa's delight, she went off smiling.

Because if there's one gift Santa brings better than anyone else, it's the gift of hope to a young child.