My memories of the whole sitting-on-Santa’s-lap experience are exclusively from A Christmas Story. I don’t recall ever going to visit Santa or seeing a picture of me as a child with him. I could be wrong, but it’s not something we did as a tradition or made a big deal out of for sure. Gabriella is three this year, and I am thoroughly enjoying this holiday season with her because she wholeheartedly believes in the magic of Christmas.
We haven’t sat down and worked out the details on exactly how we’ll handle the Santa issue in our house, but I love the fun, giving spirit of Santa and know that he has a special place in our Christmas celebration. We are spending a lot of time this month focusing on the true meaning of Christmas by working through Truth in the Tinsel and with our advent giving house, so I definitely think it’s ok to recognize the myth of Santa.
Santa Claus embodies Christian values such as kindness, generosity, forgiveness—every child soon realizes that even if they have not been perfect all year, Santa comes through. Santa brings gifts to children both deserving and undeserving. While Santa is not a Christ figure—that must be clear—the Santa myth is not the problem. The problem is that we have let advertisers hijack Santa, turning Christmas into a retail event.
Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who brought us the best gift of all: eternal life. And certainly, we need to tell our children first and foremost that Christmas celebrates the Son of God arriving to earth (Our family even baked him a birthday cake!). But other Christmas traditions—from the tree to the turkey dinner to Santa—can also enrich and bless a family’s holiday. By using a myth of a loving person who brings you a gift you did not earn, we allow them to experience a parable they can understand when they grow older. They will learn about all generosity by being the recipient of generosity.
In the spirit of Christmas and this generous old man named Santa Claus, I want to embrace the tradition of going to visit Santa with our children. I never aim to upset my children or put them in situations where they are scared or uncomfortable and with a little preparation, I am happy with the outcome of our visit. Preston was especially excited and giggled with delight on Santa’s lap and despite the look on Gabriella’s face she wanted to take a picture with Santa (standing next to him, NOT on his lap) and was really excited for me to help her tell him what she wanted for Christmas- a bear and a ducky.
We’ve seen Santa every year since Gabriella was born and actually took some really awesome “real” Santa pictures when she was about 15 months old. I stalked Jackie Willome Photography for over a year to make sure we got one of the coveted spots for these awesome sessions and most of the photos turned out great, but we do have one crying photo and almost two years later it still breaks my heart to see it. I never want to see my babies cry, especially not out of true fear. From that photo on, I vowed to never have a crying Santa photo again.
This year, I knew we wanted to get Santa photos because it’s Preston’s first Christmas and he is so happy all the time I was confident he would be fine. Preparing a three year old for the Santa experience took a little more effort, but it paid off in the end.
My game plan for a successful Santa Visit
Prep for it
A few days before our Santa visit, I asked Gabriella if she wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. The bewildered look on her face made me realize that asking a three year old this question is a bit like my husband asking me if I want to sit on the grocery store cashier’s lap. What a completely random, ridiculous notion! I made sure to talk about Santa and the whole process of waiting in line, sitting on his lap and telling him what you want for Christmas several times before our visit so that this unusual tradition wasn’t quite so strange when we got there.
Keep expectations low
Kids are unpredictable. Well, at least mine is. She was curious and even excited about the prospect of going to see Santa, but I knew seeing the big scary, bearded man in a red suit up close and personal could be a total game changer. I had high hopes of her at least letting mama or daddy hold her for a photo, but was completely prepared for her to say “no, thanks” to the whole charade and we would have settled with just waving from afar. To my surprise she willingly stood next to Santa’s chair and even put her hand on the armrest. She was sure not to make eye contact or give any inkling of excitement or hint of a smile, but I still file this in the win column because it turned out better than I hoped.
Make sure they’re fed, rested and having fun
Any parent knows that getting kids to do anything when they’re tired, hungry or grouchy is just a recipe for disaster. I made sure to let Gabriella sleep in, fed her a special breakfast I knew she would gobble up (cereal) and we avoided standing in line by heading to Bass Pro Shop where they give you a ticket for a time slot so you can shop and explore Santa’s Wonderland while you wait. We rode the carousel, checked out the waterfalls and played on the stairs before waiting about five minutes in the line for our turn.
Give them something to look forward to
I do my best to avoid bribes, but in a case like I think it is wise to make sure there is something to look forward to after Santa so that it’s quick, easy and doesn’t involve tears or screaming. In our case, we planned on eating lunch at the restaurant afterward and Gabriella remembered that they have a huge fish tank you can see while eating so she was excited to get Santa over with. We also pointed out that Santa was handing out candy canes to all the kids after they were finished so that was motivation too.