Why Do Kids Scream in Pictures With Santa?

For 11 and a half months of the year our kids talk about Santa Claus as if he’s their best friend. They draw pictures of him. They write letters to him. They sing songs celebrating his arrival. They even discuss the assortment of cookies they plan to leave for him on Christmas Eve, which is hard to believe considering the only cookies they’ve ever left for me are half-eaten ones that fell on the floor.1

So it makes no sense to me as to why, when given the opportunity to have their picture taken with Santa—a guy who leaves them presents of dollhouses, ipods, video games and more (no questions asked)—they cry and scream as if he murdered their puppy. (Which is odd because we don’t even have a puppy!2)

Every year we are fortunate to be invited to an event called “Breakfast with Santa,” thanks to our good friends (and realtors) at Coldwell Banker. This Christmas celebration has three of my favorite things: Donuts (awesome!), a magician (double awesome!) and a person who makes balloon animals (it’s like I’m in heaven!). For two hours I load up on sugar and entertainment, right alongside my kids, and hope that this glorious day never ends. That’s when Santa finally makes his entrance and my wife utters those same 14 words that always ruin my day:

“For the last time Brian, you cannot quit your job and become a magician.”

From a distance, my daughters all seem to be pleased that Santa has arrived. They clap like all the other kids. They even get in line to see Santa, smiling and laughing and telling us what they plan to ask for. Then it happens.

“OK, it’s our turn. Go sit on Santa’s lap.”

Suddenly they turn ghost white and look petrified, as if we had asked them to walk away with an axe murderer or, worse, a Cubs fan. They start screaming, “No Daddy! No Mommy! I don’t want to sit on Santa’s lap!!!”They grip onto my legs tighter than a pair of spandex, hiding their heads in the back of my knees and making it impossible for me to walk. I can only hope that, years from now, they have the same kind of reaction when boys ask them on dates.

As I try to pry them off, their grip only gets tighter. I make a reasonable case to them as to why they should sit on Santa’s lap (“I will give you all the candy you want!”) but that effort falls flat, mainly because evil creatures also known as “grandparents” have already been sneaking them candy all morning.

“I don’t like Ho Ho,” said my youngest, who only calls Santa that when she’s scared of him. Terrified tears come racing out of her eyes to match those of her 4-year-old sister, who isn’t a fan of the up-close-and-personal Ho Ho either. My eldest wasn’t crying, but the idea of sitting on some stranger’s lap didn’t really entice her either.

So I grabbed the kids and said, “HUDDLE UP!” I pulled them together like a quarterback pulls together his team when motivating them to push past their insecurities and help make the game-winning drive.

“Listen, your mom just wants one picture. ONE PICTURE! You don’t have to look at Santa. You don’t have to say anything to Santa. You don’t have to sit on his lap or even acknowledge the fact that came all the way from the North Pole to Ohio, which I'm sure had at least two layovers, just for you to ignore him. All you have to do is stand to the side of him and smile at the camera for ONE PICTURE. Can you guys do that for me?”

After hearing how important this was to me and how reasonable deal this deal was, all three of them nodded in agreement with a resounding, “NO!”

“Whoever stands next to Santa and lets mom take a picture gets to play Candy Crush on the iPad when we get home.”

And that’s the story of how we finally got the girls to take our annual photo with Ho Ho.

1 And the answer to your question is yes, I still ate them.
2 Though if we did, I’d like to think that we’d name him Zach Morris.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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