Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Santa Stalker

I'm running out of time.

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.

Here's me and Santa during his down time. He was available to walk me 
down the aisle at my wedding to Dan on August 5, 2007. Looking good, Santa.


  1. I took a gig back in '95 & '96 at the Cincinnati Zoo during the Festival of Lights. That first year was`spent with me doing a puppet show with a partner. It was fun.

    '96 though, I hit gold. I got to be an animal.

    My favorite was the panda bear. But, to me, he was the dancing panda bear.

    He'd dance all around the entry greeting all the children, parents, couples, co-workers, etc. He'd dance with anyone. Or by himself. He didn't care. His favorite times was when he'd have a dance or two with the brave kids. Or, the older teens. They'd always be up to some dancing. At least the girls would be. The guys were too cool for the most part, ya know?

    One evening, early after the shift started, a group of children came up to him. They high fived, danced and laugh with him. The panda bear was in rare form. His joy of dancing and seeing the kids inspired him. He leaped off the light poles, over fences. Everywhere he looked he saw smiles.

    As he finished his routine and has getting hugs and posing for pictures with the little tykes, he looked over and a few steps away, was a two year old little girl just standing there. Looking up at him. Glazed over. Transfixed.

    The panda bear looked down at her and waved. Nothing. He turned to her and waved again. Still nothing. They both stared at one another. She looked so...so... happy. Yet she wasn't sure what to do? He was, after all, a very tall and crazy panda bear! What a trusting and innocent look... She soooo wanted to do something, but, she couldn't move.

    The panda bear got down on one knee. The crowd grew silent. The man in the mask couldn't see another soul other than the tiny little angel in front of him. The panda bear held out both arms. Time stopped. Everyone held their breath. You could feel the energy rising...

    She happily walked over and they put their arms around each other.


    The man behind the mask smiled. He felt warm. He felt love.

    Someday, he would have his own cub and watch that trusting innocence. Knowing it'll only be for a short time. And, he will be reminded of that little girl and the warmth inside him will give him peace and joy. Like it did that night.

    But first, there's a shift to finish out...

    Come one! Come all! Dance with the dancing panda bear! He wants to share some of that peace with you.