The Santa Photo by Joshua Swainston

Two years ago my son, River, was six. Like most children in America, he obsessed about Christmas and it’s bringer of goodies, Santa Claus. He learned about Saint Nick from cartoons, movies, commercials, and other children: an amalgamation of hearsay and commercialism. What my son knew of the Santa was limited. He knew about Santa’s wife, Mrs. Claus, and all of the elves building toys in the North Pole. He knew that Santa brought presents to good boys and girls. River also knew that he was petrified of the jolly old man.

That a child may be scared of Santa is not unreasonable. As parents we tell our children to be warily of strangers, but in one instance a year we encourage our offspring to climb onto an unfamiliar lap and divulge their most sought after consumer desires. The entire event becomes more disturbing when you consider the possible lack of a vetting process that goes into hiring these fat old men. Regardless of the potential criminal records Father Christmas could have, the image of Santa serves as a beacon to children during the holiday season.

So when my son was six he, my wife and I stood in line at the U Village in Seattle, WA to meet Santa Claus. We waited for forty-five minutes drinking hot chocolate and discussing what special items he would tell the Claus he wanted. Forty-five minutes of cold in an outdoor mall. Forty-five minutes of a tightly packed line. When it got to be River’s turn to meet the legendary figure, he bolted. There was no interaction. The hostess, dressed in green elf tights, said, “It’s your turn young man.” Then my six-year-old son booked it full speed into the parking lot. Forty-five minutes for a missed photo op. We found him ten minutes later calmly watching a video game display at the Sony Store.

When River was seven, we didn’t even try. My wife mentioned going to meet Santa once, to which the boy replied a forceful “NO.” We decide to not press the subject. The trauma of screaming my son’s name in a crowded parking lot as he raced like a scared puppy was too much for all of us to relive.

This year we finally got a picture of River with Santa. River was invited to a Christmas event a Cheney Stadium as part of his Cub Scout program. At the event, children were encouraged to decorate cookies, make ornaments, sings holiday songs and take pictures with the man in red himself. The crafts and cookies were located on one end of the hall. On the opposite side was set a photo shoot with the Tacoma Rainier’s mascot, Rhubarb the Reindeer, and Santa. River stayed to the arts side of the room occasionally looking over his shoulder to catch of glimpse of Kris Kringle.

River circulated between the cookie making station and a big screen televisions that showed Will Ferrel’s movie Elf. My son decorated multiple sugar cookies with chocolate frosting and M&M’s. The tree shaped base functioned solely as a vehicle to convey chocolate from the arts table to his mouth. Each one more haphazardly constructed then the one before in a mad dash to see how many cookies he could consume before adult intervention.

I said, “Hey, come on. We’re gonna go meet Santa.”

“Na, uh.” River grunted with chocolate frosting smeared across his cheek.

“Really, come on.” I used a napkin to clean his face. “We should do this.” I took River’s hand and led him towards Santa, Rhubarb, and the photographer.

River’s admitted, “I don’t want to.”

“Why? It’s Santa. He’s gonna bring you presents, the least you could do is say hi, right?”

He hummed uneasily.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to tell you.”

“Please.”

River scrunched up his nose. “He knows things.”

“Knows what?”

“That I’m a bad kid sometimes.”

“Is that what you’re scared of?’

“Yeah.” River looked down at his feet.

“Don’t worry. I promise. Would you like it if I came with you?”

He nodded his head.

We walked right up to the where the Reindeer and the Claus were ready to receive us. The interaction between the two characters, my son and myself only took a minute. River stood as ridged as an ice sculpture. When the pictures were taken, Santa asked River what he wanted for Christmas. River looked at the old man wide eyed, said something under his breath about Nerf and quickly walked off to the cookie making station again.

Santa looked at me, “He didn’t do half bad.”

“He did better than before.” I replied before joining my son for the remainder of the movie and a few more cookies.

My son is eight-years-old. In a short time, the truth will be revealed to him and he will no longer have the same feeling of magic that children have about Christmas. In a few years he won’t want to take a photo with Santa not because he is scared but because he has grown cynical. He will grow up and no longer need his parents to protect him from uncertainty. But for right now my wife and I have the picture.