How many refrigerator doors are covered in photos and drawings and notes and calendars and magnets? Even though pictures are digital now and live in files and discs, they still get printed and posted in kitchens everywhere, on fridges standing like proud monolithic scrapbooks.
And how many at this time of year have the classic shot known as Sitting on Santa’s Knee? Scientifically, I’d say several gazillion.
Over the last dozen or more years I’ve gotten stuck w … I mean, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of being the guy who takes pictures of kids with Santa at a yearly corporate Christmas party for families.
The corporate corporation I’m referring to is Nova Chemicals, a generous company that is actively involved in the community, and the event is their yearly Christmas celebration for families at the Collicutt Centre.
I’ve worked with and for this terrific group for years now, and when it comes to Christmas, it never fails to amaze me how Santa finds the time to park his reindeer out of sight on the Collicutt roof and arrive magically at just the right moment to sit in the big comfy chair and have his picture taken with the kids, big and small.
Over the years and literally thousands of photographs, Santa and Mike the Helper Elf and myself have seen it all, in terms of Santa Sitters.
I like the wee ones who are even too little for laps. A proud but nervous parent hands the tiny new munchkin over to the big guy in red suit, who cautiously takes the squirming bundle in his white gloves like it was two kg of nitroglycerin. It’s the first time this little dude or dudette has seen Santa Claus, let alone been left alone with the furry, fuzzy, curly white and red giant that is ho-ho-ho-ing right at him.
The littlest ones do one of three things:
l They immediately fall back to sleep (or remain sleeping) much to Santa’s relief, unless they have a full diaper, which is usually the case.
l Their eyes get as big as saucers and they grab onto Santa’s beard with a ferocious baby grip that requires a serious set of power tools to ungrip.
l They take one terrified look at Santa’s red nose and all the white facial hair and the big red hat looming there in front of them and suddenly screw up their tiny face like a squished muppet and scream bloody murder.
I think those make the best photos, though at the time, the parents certainly don’t think so. It’s only years later, when they come across the Santa’s Lap pictures in an old scrapbook or a dusty digital file that the image of Santa holding their thrashing, screaming child out in front of him face first, trying desperately to hand it back to the parents, that they realize that those are the Christmas memories that make the best stories in the family folk lore.
Then there are the toddlers who wouldn’t get near the jolly old elf with any amount of coaxing, cajoling, pushing or pulling from parents.
We usually try to have the parent pick up the terrified tot to comfort them, and have them sneak around behind Santa’s chair, holding the child so at least they have a picture keepsake of their son or daughter burying their face into the shirt of their sheepish parent. Or bawling their head off, while old Santa sits all alone by himself in the chair gamely jingling his bells.
I like the elementary school lawyers. Little ones, like my own daughter, who bring a stack of paper to Santa consisting of drawings of Rudolf, who looks like several sticks with a bright red blob for a nose, and a Christmas tree, which looks like zig zags of green with a bright yellow blob for a star on top three times larger than the tree, and of course Santa, with a bag of toys — an unrecognizable work of art that the little one has to explain to Santa in detail.
And of course there is the lo-o-ong Christmas list written in crayon that Santa must personally view while the happy child on his lap itemizes every single entry with meticulous descriptive clarification. Meanwhile the lineup behind the camera is getting longer but we wouldn’t even think of hurrying a child’s secret intimate talk time with Mr. Claus.
Then there’s the shy ones, like my son was, who stand a safe distance of about 35 metres from Santa. Just enough to be in the picture. I use a wide angle lens for those little ones who want to ‘visit’ with Santa from the very edge of the frame, at arms length from Santa’s chair.
I love the tweens and the teens who get a big kick out of plunking themselves down on the arms of the chair, two or three at a time, long gangly legs sticking out everywhere, smiles as big and bright as the lights on the decorated tree beside Santa’s chair. And the moms or dads who can’t resist plopping down, squishing Santa, remembering when they were younger and the Christmas bells were ringing louder then.
But my very favourite are the wide-eyed children who are just the right age, who look in wonder, walk up and sit on Santa’s lap in awe and in deep and serious tones tell him things that nobody else knows, nobody else can hear, and you know that sitting there is as meaningful and magic as Christmas gets in the secular world.
And when I wait for just the right moment, once or twice each year I get it right and I trip the shutter and trigger the flash at exactly that moment. And I know that image is real and is more than a picture, and it makes my day, and it makes Santa’s day and, more important than that, it captures a forever Christmas for a little girl or a little boy.
And I think of how many times family members will stop for a moment and look at that picture on their fridge this Christmas and smile, and remember, and hang onto that moment when a little magic goes a very long way.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, filmmaker, musician and author. His column appears on Saturdays.