The year was 1979. My mother took her then-9-month-old daughter to the mall to visit Santa and to have her picture taken. I wonder if she could have ever imagined the tradition that she started that blustery winter day.
43 years and three more children later, my brothers and I have never missed a picture with Santa. Not as children, crabby teenagers, aloof twenty somethings, busy professionals in their thirties, or siblings in their forties with a gaggle of their own kids. This is our mother’s one true Christmas wish, and it is fulfilled without question.
When you are a child, Christmas is about magic. During the early years, a trip to see Santa meant telling him our wishes and hoping we were on his nice list.
There is magic in a mall Santa when you are a child. My mom wanted to capture that magic for her children for as long as she could.
We are six years apart, top to bottom — so even if I began to question Santa at 8 or 9, my mom still had a few more years of people wanting to visit the big guy and put in their orders. There was one infallible rule for Christmas at our house: Under no circumstances did you ever blow it for the other kids. We never did. And as the believers continued to believe, the Santa visits kept happening.
Even when we were all past the fantasy stage, the pictures were still taken.
Here’s the funny thing — I don’t remember any of us saying that we didn’t want to do it. I don’t remember throwing a fit or not smiling on purpose. Yes, there were moments in line when I saw a cute boy passing and put my head down, but that was the end of my mortification. My mom wanted our pictures with Santa, so we did it for her. She deserved that from us.
My mother always wanted to give us the best Christmas that she could, and she did that every year. There were always cookies and decorations and carols on the radio. This is her favorite time of year, and she made sure that we lived it to the fullest. There were adventures to see lights and or to watch a Christmas play. It was always different and it was always fun, but that visit with Santa was a constant.
As the commercial magic began to wear off, that’s when the real magic began. When you see a bunch of adults in their twenties standing in line to visit a mall Santa, you may do a double take. But for those curious enough to ask why we were there and we told them how many years it had been, their reactions made us realize how special this tradition truly is. It is one day a year that we are guaranteed to be together. There is one moment in time that all four of us are smiling brightly in one picture. It is one of my most favorite and treasured family traditions.
My mother no longer accompanies us to get our picture taken. We arrange our schedules with work and kids and crazy lives to make this happen for her. This is her bit of Christmas magic every year. And why shouldn’t it be?
Santa Claus is very real. Is he a jolly old elf in a red suit? No, not quite. For me, Santa Claus is an expression of love. It isn’t about big gifts or spending a lot of money. Santa is about giving your time, and your talent, and your love to those who mean the most to you. For my brothers and me, all it takes is one 5×7 shot to make a Christmas dream come true.
For 43 years, our mom has been making Christmas wishes come to life. From standing in the throngs of chaos to grab a Cabbage Patch doll, to waiting out in the cold for a Super Nintendo, to saving for a pair of Guess Jeans more expensive than any article of clothing in her own closet. If she wants a picture of her four kids with Santa, there is nothing that will stop us from making that happen. Ever. Not even adulthood. We have vowed that this tradition will go on until we have all lived our long, full lives.
And if we are all lucky, our children will give this gift to us as well. As a mother of four, I can honestly say that nothing would warm my heart more than to see my kids together at Christmastime year after year.
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