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‘Zat you, Santy Claus? (12/15/2010)
By Frances Edstrom

I have a series of photos of my children sitting on Santa’s lap, screaming their heads off as though being tortured by the much-hyped operatives of Dick Cheney. One or two of those were taken in downtown Winona when the little Santa House was on the corner of Center and Third streets during December.

It seems there’s a small window of opportunity for picture-happy parents between the time when a child is terrified of the guy in the white beard and when the child ceases to be a true believer. This also coincides with the short period in a child’s life when he can be threatened by reminding him that Santa doesn’t feel very generous toward naughty little boys and girls.

We went to Signatures last Saturday, along with a pretty good number of hardy souls who braved the blizzard to see Santa in what appeared to be his natural habitat. My little granddaughters were all dolled up in their pretty dresses in anticipation by their mother that she could get a photo of them sitting on Santa’s lap. (Silly girl. I could have warned her that any time you plan for something beautiful, your kids can botch it for you.)

Santa appeared. He was a very tall Santa who looked like he’d been working out in the off-season. Plenty of room on his lap for two kids. And he was dressed in his version of formal wear — a St. Nicholas-type garb of white satiny material enhanced with embroidery. I heard my friend Sandy’s little grandson say to his dad, “But he’s not wearing a red suit!” I liked the outfit, myself. It didn’t make you wonder where it had been lately, as so many of the red suits you encounter do. His beard was nicely trimmed, too. No discernible crumbs lurking.

My daughter had been coaching the kids to expect the beard by pointing out that Santa had a beard just like Abby’s father does. But the kids were not fooled into thinking that this fellow might be Abby’s father in a satin suit. (Abby’s father feels more at home in camo. Come to think of it, a white suit for Santa could be considered camouflage.) The four-year-old did the shy act, briefly, before going back to twirling so her dress billowed out around her. The almost-two-year-old did the old ostrich trick, and simply turned her back on him and closed her eyes. She did shoot him a couple of her slitted-eyes looks, which I call the “stink eye,” but she had no intention of even being in the same room with the guy.

When they were pretty sure that Santa was gone, they ventured up to his chair, and did allow their mother to get a picture of them in the chair, sans Santa. Then they started acting up, signaling it was time for naps.

It was in that same room that my son saw Santa close-up and personal for the first time. He’d been having a great time tearing around with a bunch of kids of his general age — toddlers — when the telltale sound of bells ringing filled the room and the huge visage of Santa loomed. Amid the squeals of delight from the slightly older kids, I heard Jake say, “You get out of here!” When it came time to talk to Santa, he would only stand just out of reach of the old guy and shout that he wanted a train. Then he ran.

Fast forward to several years later, and once again he was tearing around with his buddies, this time in that annoying way 10-year-olds have, so they were sent outside to play in the snow. Soon, however, they came running in yelling, “He’s a fake! He’s a fake!” They had seen Santa drive up in the parking lot and fish his beard from the back seat. An angry manager, Mae, gave us mothers the “stink eye,” and we rushed to shut them up. I don’t think any of the little ones knew what “fake” meant, or at least I hope not.

Next year might be the year that the little girls will sit on Santa’s lap and recite their lists of wants. This year, they don’t even know enough to have a wish list. That’s what happens when the five pound catalogs don’t come in the mail anymore and all the television they watch is “educational.” But they can’t avoid it forever. The idea of receiving magically appearing presents for no good reason they can tell is too delicious a thought for kids to ignore at that certain age.

Oooh! Do I hear Santa’s reindeer’s hooves on the roof? Or was that just the icicles falling? 


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