Thursday, December 21, 2006

Santa Magic

Yesterday we braved the rain, the crowds and the lines and went to the mall to see Santa. It's a necessary evil for the season. It actually went really well!

In case you didn't know, I used to be an elf. I took pictures of kids with Santa for several years during college. I had some wonderful experiences with some wonderful Santas. (And then there was the one Santa who put his beard on backwards - with the netting on the outside.) I will blog about some of those Santas eventually. But the Santa that was there yesterday was the real deal.

Of course these days most department store Santas have the real beard and long, white hair. No wigs and fake beards for them! This gentleman was no exception. And the poor guy was sweltering. After each kid he would take his hat off and pat down his forehead. Of course this gave his cheeks the rosy glow that Santa is famous for. He was gentle and sweet with every kid, listening intently to their requests and acting surprised and elated when they rattled off their lists. He was animated, quiet and genuinely seemed to love what he was doing. Then came the true test. The kid who was terrified.

She was about 2 or 3 years old (from experience I can tell you that those ages are the ages where kids decide that it's just not worth it to even get near the fat, jolly guy) and she was wearing a pink dress with a very full skirt. The dress had "Birthday Girl" stitched across the bodice and yes, it was her birthday. Her dad and her very pregnant mom were with her and really wanted a birthday picture with Santa. Birthday Girl got to the edge of the Santa area and would not budge. She clung to her mom for all she was worth. Poor Mom couldn't do much. Her center of gravity was already wacked because of her huge belly, and now she had a toddler clinging to her and trying to pull her the other way. No, there was not a tumble, but there was Dad to the rescue.

This Santa was a pro. He did not get up and try to coax Birthday Girl to him. He sat on his cushioned bench, smiled and opened his arms invitingly. He softly called to her, but she was still not budging. While Mom tried her best to convince Birthday Girl that Santa was a good guy, Santa and Dad hatched a plan (judging from the professionalism of the Santa, it was his plan and he just told Dad what to do). Then Santa disappeared. I did not see where he went, but I figured that he took advantage of the moment to go have a break.

Dad came back to Birthday Girl and said, "Sweetie, I really want a picture of you sitting on the bench. Can you sit with Daddy on the bench with the big Christmas tree behind us? Would that be okay?" It took a minute or so to convince Birthday Girl that sitting on the bench would be okay. So they sat. The picture taking elf rang her jingle bells to capture Birthday Girl's attention. Dad smiled, Birthday Girl looked up at the camera, and Santa popped up from behind the bench, spread his arms across the back of the bench, and they had their picture with Santa. Then Santa crouched back down. Birthday Girl did not know a thing.

I have to hand it to Santa for that little trick. He was good! He made sure that he was out of Birthday Girl's line of sight during and even AFTER the picture. He was all about the kids and making them feel safe. He did come out from behind the bench and wave at Birthday Girl as they were leaving, but he didn't force any interaction that she wasn't comfortable with. I almost cried.

Then it was our turn and Buddy didn't want to go to Santa (he's three, you know). So I knelt down next to Santa between him and Buddy and we took a picture that way. Then I got up and Buddy got a little braver. We took a couple more with Buddy sitting next to Santa. Our final picture was one with Buddy and Princess on Santa's lap with the biggest smiles you could want. Magic.

Up at the counter where we paid for the picture Princess kept prompting me, "Ask them! Ask them!" As I posted before, she's figured out that Santa can't be at every mall every day during the season. She knows that he sends helpers down to pretend to be him and to report back to him. She also knows that every once in a while he comes down himself just to get a taste of what's going on. She wanted to know if this guy was just a guy with white hair in a Santa suit, or if he was HIM. She was too shy to ask the big man himself, so we settled on asking one of the helper elves. The elf told us that this man was the real one! He came down from the North Pole especially to Barton Creek Mall. The look on Princess' face almost brought me to tears. She had seen the REAL Santa. She had talked to the REAL Santa. She still stood only feet from the REAL Santa. Her eyes got big as she looked back at the sweet man in the red suit. She smiled a shy smile. Then she breathed in really deeply and said, "He's the real one!" I hope she believes forever.

Oh, one last gem. As we were gathering the kids and ushering them from Santa's bench, I stopped to thank Santa for being so patient with Buddy. He watched Buddy and Princess walk away and said, "Oh, no trouble. It's all about the kids." I said, "You know, I was an elf for three years here." He looked up at me, cocked his head sideways and said, "Then you know!" I swear his eye twinkled at me. I felt a rush of inner warmth that can only be described as Christmas cheer. I almost cried (was I too emotional yesterday?!).

THAT, my friends, was the REAL Santa.

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