Meeting Santa For The First Time; A Rite Of Passage

You’ve managed to dress your child in an adorable Christmas outfit, complete with Mary Janes and a Pinterest-inspired hairdo, and maybe even some snappy suspenders or a vest and a bowtie for your little dude. “Perfect,” you think to yourself. “This day is going in the scrapbook – and definitely the annual newsletter. It may even be Christmas card material this year!”

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Kevin Groat, now a Graphic Designer at Three Dog Ink Media, sits calmly on Santa’s lap, while his younger brother, Mikey, does not. On right, Ryan sets a prime example as an older brother. Richmond, VA circa 1987.

Okay, parents. Let’s get real about taking your special snowflakes to see Santa for a minute, and try to set aside the fact that only one out of 76 photos (if any) will include smiling faces, may we?

I know that some of you are determined to get that smiling $50 keepsake at all costs, and while perhaps one or two of you reading this may actually get it, I’m here to offer an alternative perspective.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen the movie A Christmas Story easily 100 times since my own childhood, but I will never get the image of that malevolent Santa and his band of evil elves shoving Ralphie down the shoot after mocking his dreams and laughing in his face. And from what I’ve witnessed both as a child and a parent, even the tots far too young to have seen this movie seem to anticipate this horror – as evidenced from the abundance of red-faced shrieking traumatized children sitting on Jolly Old Saint Nick’s lap.

Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself before your expedition of Forced Family Fun: Are you going because of aguilt trip after watching everyone ruthlessly post their “highlight reels” on social media? Or are your kids begging you with the persistence of rabid telemarketers, and you want to fulfill their every dream no matter what?

Or maybe you’re trying to relive your own childhood, which you may or may not have reinvented and embellished with glossed over tales recounted to you by your own parents. The idea is precious, it truly is. The reality, however, can take any number of wrong turns. And don’t forget to consider your child’s unique personality (think about it, are they shy or easily overstimulated?). I’m not telling you what to do because this is a sweet and timeless tradition, but I’m also saying that if some strange dude in a costume getting paid $8 an hour wanted my kid to sit on his lap I’d be hawk-eyeing that business like it’s my job – because it is.

Landon trying to escape Santa...but he might be calming down at the sight of a lollipop.

Landon trying to escape Santa…but he might be calming down at the sight of a lollipop.

Oh beloved Santa Claus, there is only one of you, so we know that you must dispense your “helpers” to fulfill the wishes of children with sugarplums dancing in their heads. But who are YOU going to get? The real deal – a plump, pleasant man with a genuine white beard and all? Or the 30-year-old who got bribed into this gig at the last minute and doesn’t even bother to fake it? Or that Santa who smells a little bit like late night grown up holiday parties, á la Billy Bob Thornton? It’s a roll of the dice. Best case scenario, your child, if old enough to speak, is going to be convinced that was the REAL ONE AND ONLY SANTA – in which case you’re going to need to find out very specifically what they asked him for unless you want to be a dream crusher years before you’d planned. The worst case scenario might involve you abandoning the line you waited in for three hours to haul away a screaming and flailing child while being escorted out by teenage elves flanked by security guards.

I think it’s clear by now that any and every “pearl of wisdom” I have to offer should ALWAYS be taken with as many grains of salt as you can find. So grab your shaker, because here’s my list of helpful tips for taking the little ones to meet Santa: 

  1. Santa Claus bring it onFirst and foremost, try to seek out local spots that offer this experience. Volunteer fire departments, for example, do this out of the goodness of their hearts. If you’re determined to go someplace insanely brave like the mall, you’re going to get a vastly different experience. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  2. Bring snacks and a drink – for all of you. Unless you time it just right and hit the Santa line lottery, you might be there for what feels like all of eternity. But this also leads to “I have to pee” after you’ve waited well over an hour and you’re next up – so you might have to beg, bribe, or give up your adult sippy cup full of special grape juice to have someone hold your place in line.

  3. Lines, lines, lines. BEHAVE. I’m not just talking about children here. Temper tantrums abound in long lines so overstimulation should be anticipated, and you might want to pack a week’s worth of distracting materials for the lot of you on this quest for fun memories. Remember, adults don’t do any better while waiting for a restaurant table during the summer, so it might just be a contest to see who can hold their temper tantrum the longest. From what I’ve seen, kids win this contest hands down almost every single time as they watch their parents lose it on some unsuspecting stranger in the name of The Christmas Spirit. PTSD counseling may be necessary – for you, your child, Santa, the elves, and perhaps any onlookers if it was an especially memorable experience.

I asked my own children what they remember about our very few visits to see Santa. One said she liked tugging on his beard (and to the gracious gentleman with the genuinely perfect snow white beard – I’m so, so sorry that she is inexplicably strong for her size). The oldest said, “I don’t know, I think I remember him smelling like B.O.” (This led directly to a debate about the difference between body odor and cologne.) As for the youngest child, I have slacked on this front along with her birth announcement, baptism, and even playtimes with friends her own age. She was fortunate enough to have an unbelievably positive experience last year at a party hosted by friends – an event that dreams are made of, and which surpassed anything I’ve even seen in the movies – so she’s already asking when she can go see Santa. With no way to top that one-in-a-million experience, I, for one, am staying as far away from malls as possible, and am already making my list of excuses – and checking it twice. The only thing that stands out in my mind about those trips are the fat lips and black eyes sustained from trying to keep my little angels still and somewhat fit for being in public while waiting in line. (The injury part might explain why I’m partial to Santa visits where there are emergency management workers present.)

kid-crying-with-santa

In all honesty, the only pictures of kids with Santa I enjoy are the red-faced screaming and horrified expression ones because those are funny. In my rarely humble opinion, the far cuter pictures are of bed-headed children in jammies on Christmas morning amongst the scattered carnage of boxes and wrapping paper, complete with zombie parents hazily enjoying their children’s delight while attempting to sip coffee and/or bloody marys and trying to open toys packaged by a sadist with a fetish for zip ties and twine. I’ve always preferred a few candid shots to anything posed, but that’s just me. This year, maybe we can all laugh a little bit harder however the chips may fall, live in the moment, and have our babies sit in our own laps instead. Happy holidays, parents! ♦

Lindsey Beasley Dianna is longtime resident of the Outer Banks, a mother of three, and is considering a career in writing one day. She still believes in Santa Claus, but you won’t find her anywhere near a mall.

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