Sitting on Santa’s Lap is a Seriously Strange Tradition

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“No honey, you don’t have to sit on Santa’s lap,” I heard my husband tell our three-year-old son last week after they’d returned from the mall.There were two revelations I unearthed in my eavesdropping. The first was that my husband went to the mall. The second was the fact that somehow in the past few decades, it’s become an acceptable ritual for parents (at least those who observe Christmas and/or Santa)  to encourage their children to sit on some strange man’s lap – a strange man dressed in red velvet, nonetheless – and force a smile while dozens of other little faces look at you in anticipation…or in some cases, fear.

Don’t get me wrong. For the past two years, I was one of those parents. I was paranoid when strangers asked me what my son’s name was in the first few months after his birth, so I wasn’t about to let a jolly man in a red suit hold my four-month-old that very first Christmas. But the following year and the one after, I stood in line, combed his hair and waited patiently so my young son would have the joy of sitting on Santa’s lap. Those was two years in a row that went in a less than perfect direction.

The first try was comical, really. I have three snapshots that show my son looking at Santa (picture #1), son turning to camera to cry (picture #2), and son jumping off Santa’s lap, hands in the air (picture #3). The second year was annoying because after watching the parents in front of me get snapshot after snapshot on their phones and cameras, my son was quickly whisked away with a picture that showed him frowning while sitting as far away from Santa as possible.

I should have learned my lesson then.

I never thought about going to sit on Santa’s lap as anything other than a tradition you do with your child during the holiday season – right along with singing carols, shopping, or baking. But now that I think about it, it’s really weird. Actually, it’s downright creepy.  Why are we excited to place our happy children on the lap of a man that makes them cry? Why do we smile and clap and convince our little ones that “yes honey, that’s Santa. Go ahead, tell him what you want for Christmas?”

My son has spoken. In fact, his exact words were: “No Santa.” And guess what – I’m not going to force him.

In the photo album years from now, there will be a No Photo Available note for Christmas 2011 in the holiday photos. But in its place will be memories that are indescribable: the two of us snuggling on the couch watching Polar Express for the hundredth time, the story of how Mom, Dad and Auntie Swiss went to Toys R’ Us at midnight on Thanksgiving Day to shop for his presents only to stand in line for three hours and return at five in the morning, our trips taking public transit downtown to see the lights in order to avoid Sunday drivers unfamiliar with the city streets, or his innocent face telling Grandpa, “I want toys!” when asked the obligatory, “What do you want for Christmas?”

And when I’m asked by family and friends if I’ll miss the standard picture with Santa, my answer is easy. I won’t. Not at all. Because what I will have is so much better than a picture of my son sitting on a strange man’s lap.

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