The following article first appeared on December 8, 2009 for my The Humor of It…Through a Different Lens column for Shades of the Departed magazine. footnoteMaven has graciously allowed me to reprint my Humor of It articles here on What’s Past is Prologue.
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Ah, Christmas…it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? For some children, it’s the time of year to be scared to death. First, there’s the whole threat of “being good” or else! The mere thought of not getting any presents is certainly scary, but there is something about Christmas that isn’t all happy and jolly. In fact, it instills more fear in young children than a Halloween haunted house – it’s Santa’s Little Workshop of Horrors and the annual photo with Santa!
Santa has a reputation of being a happy and fun kind of guy. After all, he brings you toys for no apparent reason. That’s a guy any child would love, right? Then why is that big fat guy with a bushy beard so absolutely terrifying for so many children? It’s the terror that makes the annual “photo with Santa” such a delight for adults. Parents, determined to get that holiday photo no matter what, gratefully accept the photo even if the child has an expression of fear and terror and tears flowing like a river. Years later these photos are funny, but one can only imagine that it wasn’t that funny at the time for all involved – the scared child, the parent who has to calm them, and poor Santa who has to withstand the screams. I hope the malls provide ear protection with the red suit.
Here’s an exasperated Santa from 1977 who is wondering if it’s time to go home yet (or if the eggnog is nearby):
Fast forward to 2006…the formerly terrified child is now a mom, so it’s time to take her daughter to visit Santa. Did she not remember her own terror? You know what they say, “Like mother, like daughter!”
But, by now Grandmom knew the tricks to a happy photo – candy canes for all! Or maybe it was Santa himself who learned this trick over the years – if the kids have something to put in their mouth like a pacifier, they aren’t nearly as loud.
By the time we reach adulthood, we really seem to forget how to think like a child. This may be why the child’s fear of Santa comes as such a surprise to the parents. If you’re a parent who will be taking a little one for the annual Santa photo, let me remind you of a few things. First, no matter how happy or friendly Santa actually looks with that whole jolly persona and twinkle in his eye, there is something menacing about him. Think about it…he sees you when you’re sleeping? He knows when you’re awake? That’s a bit stalkerish, don’t you think? For years we tell our children not to talk to strangers, but there’s this apparently omnipotent dude that you see once a year and have to be nice and smile for the camera. Mark my words – children pick up on this incongruity!
It must be quite a challenge to be a photographer for Santa. Even if you manage to get a nice, happy expression on the faces of the children, there’s always the distinct possibility that Santa himself may screw up your holiday photo. After all, which is the worse or the two? Being the frightened child who has to sit on Santa’s lap, or being Santa? Santa, who, hour after hour and day after day, has lines and lines of children who want to see you. Well, most of them want to see you…but then there are the few, the screaming, the scared. It must be far worse to be Santa with a headache from all the high decibel screams than it is to be the crying child. The children get over it with age and perhaps some therapy, but Santa has to put up with hundreds of screaming children every December.
Even if Santa doesn’t get a screamer, there’s the endless litany of “gimme” requests that’s enough to drive a teetotaller to the bottle of Jamison’s. Every household seems to have at least one photo of Santa who looks as though he’s had a few. But, who can blame him after all?
What’s the secret to a good photo with Santa? Maybe if Santa were closer in age and size, he wouldn’t be scary at all but cute and cuddly!
For More Fun:
If you want to see more photos of children who are scared of Santa, visit the Chicago Tribune “Scared of Santa” photo gallery.
Also, there is a collection of photos in a book called Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins. (Harper Paperbacks, 2008)