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Interviewing Santas

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By: Elenna Nee   |   December 2, 2022

Here Come the Holidays

I was at my in-law’s house having lunch when Santa Mike returned my call. We didn’t have an appointment but I was happy to get a breather from wiggly kiddos on my lap and failed attempts at adult conversation. It was mid-October and as Director of Events for SMMC, the annual Holiday Fair was on my mind. I wanted to make the party special for our members and their families and was working on a lineup of seasonal entertainment that would give us a little break from the usual suspects on Sunday mornings at The Junction.


I had already booked the San Francisco Boys Chorus and a puppet show with Ricky Roo and Friends! And I was even contemplating the pros and cons of fake snow, but to be honest… I wasn’t sure I was going to invite Santa. Now hear me out on this. I know those of us parents who grew up celebrating Christmas likely have come to associate Santa with toys, sweets etc., however the rest of our guest list (consisting of people aged 0-3) may not take kindly to being put on a stranger’s lap and told to sit still. At the same time, I knew if I didn’t invite the Big Man, eyebrows might be raised.

Bona fide Claus

IF I was going to book a Santa, I knew it needed to be a bona fide Claus, a natural bearded, round bellied (that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly), high quality velvet wearing professional with no less than a twinkle in his eye. As a kid I remember spotting a pair of white sneakers under black boot covers at the mall and thinking something is wrong here. Since then the standards for Santa seem to have gone up. There are now multiple professional guilds including the IBRBS (International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas) who seek to “uphold the positive image of Christmas performers” and NESS (New England Santa Society) that host monthly Santa meetups. 


The Santa Spectrum

While talking to Santa Mike (pictured at top) I realized quickly that he wasn’t your ordinary line-the-kids-up-and-get-the-shot kind of Santa. He was a performer, author, and character in his own right. A Santa who would know all the children at your party by name and even recall the time when Little Danny (a dad in the audience) was a boy and wanted a red trike for Christmas. He made it personal and touching. And there were poems, long poems in ABAB rhyme detailing the proclivities and roles of each elf on his core team, Alabaster Snowball who’s Naughty/Nice list is updated four times every minute and Sugarplum Mary, head of sweet treats “who could always be found making cookies abound.” I hadn’t expected to be whisked away into a winter wonderland of poetry, but I listened in the spare bedroom totally delighted, with cell phone in hand and a wistful look on my face. Within ten minutes Mike felt like a kindred spirit, the kind of Santa I myself would want to be, but was he the right guy for our big event? In reality at our event, there would be too many Dannys for a mere mortal to keep track of, and taking photos admittedly wasn’t Mike’s forte. He was willing to give it a go (mainly because our event coincided with a visit with Ms. Claus to see his Grandkids in the Bay Area), but his heart just wasn’t in it. I hung up with a sigh and kept looking. 

On the other end of the Santa spectrum was Greg (pictured at right). He was what you might call a plug and play Santa. When asked about his specific Santa style he said, “whatever you need, I’m flexible,” and professed to being able to get sixty kids in and out for pictures in thirty minutes! I was impressed and a bit dubious about what was involved in achieving such a feat of efficiency, but I definitely wanted all our families to get their photo op. I certainly liked his laid-back style, a necessity with our group, so I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Not only was Greg a great fit for the gig, but his look was 100% legit. He was a genuinely jolly-looking, white-bearded fellow whose costume options included not only the requisite red suit but a floor length fur-trimmed number, both decorative and utilitarian, that conjured imagery of long cold sleigh rides and chimney descents. Greg was our bona fide Claus, and he was game for a morning of toddlers with one requirement, a sturdy chair. Hired!

Parents, This One is For You

Photos with Santa are iconic in American culture, a moment in childhood that, as evidenced by Jeff Roffman’s viral photographs, can be both adorable and funny, but oftentimes distressing for kids. For this reason it seems to have taken shape as a right of passage, something that is expected and passed down from one generation to the next, perhaps a projected image of childhood joy, proof that we as parents have been able to create the same experiences our parents provided for us as children. And let’s face it, with roots in boosting sales for department stores, Santa and Christmas in general has for a long time been about more than celebrating the season and family togetherness.

That being said, there was still a part of me that longed for that tradition, as flawed and complex as it may be. I would introduce my own kids to Santa, give them the option for the photo, and answer any questions they had as honestly as I could. You see the magical thing about childhood is that you can hold and accept multiple truths. There isn’t a need to reconcile lines of logic to one unifying system of belief. Santa can be a man at the mall, Mom and Dad putting presents under the tree, a character in a book and just a feeling. Kids are inclusive and adaptable AND, as Santa Greg (pictured at right) aptly put it, “Even if they cry, they’ll appreciate the photos when they’re older.”

Five Photo Tips

On that note I will leave you with 5 tips for getting a photo of your toddler with Santa!

  1. Talk about Santa and get your kids excited to meet him before photo time.
  2. Make sure they are well rested and fed to avoid the grumpies.
  3. Go for a candid photo with your child in motion rather than asking them to hold still.
  4. Make sure your phone is charged.
  5. Portrait mode makes everything better!

Elenna Nee grew up on the east coast and then LA before attending college at UC Santa Cruz. After meeting her husband Darin, a Marin native, they moved to Tam Valley where they eventually bought a home and are now raising their two wonderful kids, Sage (3) and Cleo (6 mos).

Elenna worked in digital marketing with a focus in web and app development for 10 years before becoming a non profit performing arts administrator. She served as Managing Director for her favorite local dance company, Embodiment Project before becoming a stay at home Mom. Elenna is a long time dancer and performer with a passion for all kinds of movement. These days she finds herself enjoying hikes with friends she met in her SMMC playgroup and doing mommy me exercise classes with Cleo.

Elenna feels fortunate to have spent the last three years at home with her children and was very excited when the opportunity arose to put on a different hat to work with the SMMC board as a Special Project Coordinator for the All Wrapped Up Fundraising Sale. She now looks forward to helping to build community and create memorable experiences for club members and their families in her new role as Director of Events.

More from this issue:

A Meaningful Jewish Christmas Read >> 

All Rise for the Mug of Glory! Read >>

Interviewing Santas Read >>

Joinable Brings People Together Read >>

Keeping it Together While Traveling Together Read >>

Matrix Parent Network for Children Special Needs Read >>

RSV vs. Flu vs. COVID-19 Read >>

The Architecture of Healing Read >>

The Journey of Fulfillment Read >>

What is the Meaning of Life? Read >>