Growing up, I do not remember going to the mall to get a photo taken with Santa during Christmas time. There are no photos proving otherwise, so I assume my parents simply did not feel comfortable with me sitting on a stranger’s knee. Or maybe they were too cheap to spend money on something they could arrange for at home. Or they did not have the time. More than likely, it was a combination of all of the above.
Have you seen, or heard about the photos in which the kid is crying their eyes out because they are scared of the fat, old man that they have never met before? Well, I never understood why people choose to put their kids through such an event. Are they trying to torture them on purpose? I mean, if you are walking through a shopping mall, and your kid tugs at you and asks for a photo with Santa, go for it if you want to make them smile. But otherwise, why would you want to stand in a (usually) long line and pay for a photo your kid does NOT want?
What I DO remember was meeting Santa at the mall by accident. I was there with a few of my peers, shopping for Christmas. (Oh, how we used to be so much more responsible and adult-ish as kids than the kids these days…) All of a sudden, we heard through the overhead speaker that Santa would be arriving in a few minutes.
The timeline is a little hazy, so I am not sure whether I already knew Santa was not real but was in denial, or if I still truly believed in him. However, what I did know, from my parents, was that Santa Claus could not visit each child individually in a single night. Of course, that was reasonable. Therefore, Santa often relied on elves and parents to pass on the gifts (that were still from the original Santa, made in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole). (How have I never thought of looking at the label/tag?)
Once the jolly, old fellow arrived, in his red suit, with snow-white hair and a long beard, he was introduced as Santa Claus. He looked so real. Mr. Claus was said to be from the North Pole. Some of my friends snickered. (They had been trying to enlighten me about the Santa fairy tale all day.) However, when he began to speak, all of our jaws dropped. He spoke perfect English. Oh, I forgot to mention that this took place in a country in which English was not the official language. A random man served as a translator.
At that moment, all of the clouds of doubt in my head dispersed, and I was left with a clear vision. Of course, Santa was real. He spoke ENGLISH, after all! What other language would he speak? My parents were right – he needed help to deliver gifts to kids from all over the world, but he was real. Why did I believe he was real? Because he was no one’s family member or the mall’s employee. They were not native English speakers. I know it sounds silly, but that encounter reinforced my belief in Santa. And my jaded peers were left speechless.
This past weekend, I ran into Santa again. By accident. I went out to eat at a restaurant I have never been to before and walked around for a little while afterward. (Does anyone like walking after they eat a big meal?) The area was sort of like a shop/Christmas village. What caught my attention was a statue of a sitting polar bear (with Santa’s hat on its head). It almost made me want to sit in its lap and feel the magic of winter, Coca-Cola, and Christmas. A kid was climbing all over it and his mom was snapping pictures. It looked like they enjoyed themselves. I smiled but immediately wondered about all the other kids that had touched that bear before that kid. There was no one in sight to sanitize the space.
Back to back with the polar bear was an enclosed area where Santa and his elves resided. Unlike for a photo with the bear, you needed an appointment to take a picture with Santa. There was also a fee associated with it. This year, aside from all the regular restrictions, there was another one put into place – plexiglass. A see-through barrier sat between Santa Claus and any kid that came to visit. They call it a Santatized experience. I have not seen the photos, but the glass is said to be invisible in the final photo, per elf magic!
Once I got back home, I checked how if Santa protects himself the same way across the US. Turns out – no. But, the plexiglass is very popular. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Santa Claus social distances by sitting in the back of the sleigh, leaving the front seat for the kids. The elves have more work this year – they have to assure that the kids waiting in line are six feet apart. I wonder if Santa gave them a raise this year, or if he told them that “times are tough.”
While kids are allowed to take their masks off for the photos in some places, in St. Clairsville, Ohio, they have to keep them on at all times, and so does Santa himself.
Due to COVID-19, some malls chose not to “import” their Santa’s from other states, but instead, hired a local one, which to me sounds great. Go local economy support!
Even though I will not be going to the mall to get my photo taken with Santa, I think that these pandemic changes might actually be good. Kids do not have to worry about being in close proximity with a stranger, Santas do not have to worry about anyone smelling the alcohol on their breath, and parents can finally take photos with Santa and their kid. It becomes a family affair, not just a form of torture for the kids.
There are some downsides to the pandemic, like with anything else. But, I also see the positives in an encounter with Santa. Enjoy your Santatized, socially distanced photos with the jolly man!
- Do you have a family history of getting pictures taken with Santa?
- Why do you think people insist on taking photos with Santa?
- What language do you think is Santa’s native tongue?
- Will you be taking a photo with Santa this year?
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