Christmas is in 3 days, and then he'll be gone.
The jolly fat man, my holiday muse and favorite myth, Santa Claus.
I love Santa. I always have. It got a little weird and out of control once my dad started to look like Santa. Now that I live on the opposite coast from my dad, Santa has become kind of a substitute, a doppelganger if you will. The Santa at the Glendale Galleria is a singing Santa, like my dad. So I love to go and see him and... well... just see him, I guess.
Every Christmas season I steal as many moments in Santa's presence as I can. I love to go down to the mall and just stand there, watching him with the little kids. I could probably spend a whole afternoon there, if I had a whole afternoon during Christmas where my presence was not absolutely required somewhere else. But even a few moments are enough to fill me up for a while.
It's the kids, of course. Mine are just barely too big to sit on his lap anymore. (I told Emma and Claire I'd give them a dollar if they'd get a Santa picture this year and initially they said yes, but once we got there they backed out on me.) The optimal kid age for Santa is up to about 5, I'd say. After that, they're just there for the candy cane or stickers or whatever.
Here comes a family with three kids. Big brother is 6, he's a pro, sits in the middle just smiling at the camera. Santa is just a lap for him. Little sister is 3, maybe 4. She is enthralled. Baby brother, age 1, perches on the right knee and Santa holds him up and as soon as Mom steps away from him he starts to cry, slowly, his face going from a little scared to contorted with fear... click!
Captured in time.
For the most part, from my observations, the 2 to 3 year olds don't like him. No they do not. They are either terrified, in shock, or outright enraged. "Mom!" their eyes say as the camera flashes, "Mom! How could you do this to me? I trusted you! And you gave me to this big hairy stranger!" Ah, that's a look to treasure. I have a couple of those pictures, myself. Crying gently or screwing their eyes up and screaming. Not happy. Those kids are fun to watch.
But the best are the little ones who stare in wonder. Jackpot! That's what I came for. Tiny little girls in fancy velvet dresses wearing white tights with lace on the butt, little boys with their hair slicked back for the photo, set gently on Santa's lap to gaze up at him with wide, trusting eyes. You can tell that's what he took the job for.
A little hand touches the beard (it's real) and I start to tear up. Okay, why? Why do I do this?
Santa has made me a voyeur. I'm spying on the small moments of another family's Christmas, because my own family is so far away. Every child I watch - maybe - is me, or my brothers, or my baby sister. And every Santa is my daddy.
Aw jeez. Really? Santa is a father fixation? I had way too many psych classes in college. Can't I just, I don't know, enjoy the little kids, the innocence, the joy? Does it have to be so deep?
No, it doesn't, although thinking about it that way makes it even more special for me. So I watch the kids on Santa's lap, remembering all of us sitting on daddy's lap at Christmas time and it makes me feel happy. So sue me.
Oh, and Merry Christmas, Dad.