There have been a great many Santas in my life. Every year as we finished eating Christmas dinner at Grandma's house, Santa would visit with a toy for each grandchild. And Grandpa always seemed to be in the bathroom when it happened... One year, as we were on our way to bed on Christmas Eve, Santa & an elf walked right through our front door! We hurried up the stairs so he wouldn't see we were still awake. Apparently he brought and wrapped our presents that night, because he left his rolls of wrapping paper with the presents under the tree. But the Santa who made me believe, the Santa I remember best for sitting me on his lap and listening to my Christmas list, is the Santa pictured in our annual family Polaroids taken at the local mall.
We went to see him every year. Except once. We went to the other mall when I was almost two, and I got so nervous that I threw up on Santa's lap! It's a favorite family story. Clearly. According to my mom, my aunt who was with us laughed so hard that she almost peed her pants! And of course, the moment has been immortalized in a Polaroid showing only my big brother on Santa's lap, the hint of a wet mark on Santa's knee, and a rather forced smile on Santa's face.
Needless to say, from then on we always went to the other Santa.
My parents tried to send Christmas cards every year, but these pictures were more for us that for anyone else. We recently looked over the pictures together, and they laughed out loud as we talked about my "accident" on the imposter Santa in 1989, my Pee-Wee Herman sweater in 1990, and my little brother's arched back tantrum in 1991. Mom recalled how she knew even back then that we were going to grow up. She could feel our childhoods fading away. Taking these pictures every year felt like a way to save time for her. They are treasures.
Dad was really good at making sure we went every year for the picture. Apparently, my parents remember me insisting on the tradition as well, as we got older and more siblings joined the scene. And that sounds about right- only girl, older sister syndrome :) I feel like I cling to traditions because of their consistency and sentiment. These shared moments and memories are something my brothers and I have in common as part of who we are individually and collectively.
Our Santa, the Santa in our Polaroids, passed away several years ago. Even before that, the mall changed their Santa experience (even having "Santa" parachute in once recently), and it really hasn't been the same since. The tradition started to die out for us because he was such a big part of it.
My dad told me a bit about the man behind these memories, Dennis Van Vuren. He was that mall Santa for twenty-three years, sometimes even making house calls on Chrstmas Eve to children and families he knew well. He was well known in our community as "Irish the Clown" as well, performing at local birthday parties and even at one of our family reunions. Dad remembers him as a man without guile and even went to his funeral with many other community members who had loved him for the magic he created. I've never seen a Santa like him, because he was Santa for us.
I have no doubt this will be a tradition with our kids too. Not only did my Nana take at least this one similar picture back with my dad when he was a kid, but Matt's mom also made an effort to capture Santa's lap moments throughout the years.
I can only hope that we can recreate the magic my Santa made for me.