Well, the Santa season is over. The red suit is washed, dried and put away for another eleven months. The boots could stand a bit of shining, but as they are plastic, I’m not sure if that would work; the polish would probably rub off on anything with which they came in contact. One thing, though; I need a new Santa hat as the old one is stretching out and the rim of fuzz hangs in my eyes. Kind of like a sheepdog. But let’s get to the subject.
This year, as in many past, I sat in the golden throne down at my favorite mall. I also sat at a smaller mall, but one that had no throne, just a crappy little chair with a deep, hammock-like declivity where the cushion ought to be. Not comfortable. Bad throne.
As per usual, on catching sight of me, most urchins between one year to twenty months, screamed there little heads off. While some of the squalling was discomfort at being taken away from mommy, there were many who, on seeing me, exhibited stark, existential terror. I know, I saw their faces and heard their screams. I found it disturbing.
I found this strange, because out in the waiting line, these same kids were fine. They waived at me, I waived at them. Some cavorted on the aisle floor, some were passed from person, some played with other kids. On coming onto the set and seeing our photographers, helpers and the dude running the cash register, they were calm, cool and collected. They grabbed for our Winnie-the-poo doll and squealed with delight when Elmo appeared. Such fun.
Then mom and pop would turn and walk to my throne. On seeing me, the little kids’ brows would knit with trepidation and they’d cling to their parents and bury their faces in the old folks’ coats. After a bit, they’d sneak a peek to see if maybe I’d disappeared. When they found out I hadn’t, the tears would start and the kicking would begin. Interestingly, as long I avoided eye contact, a few never lost their composure.
To avoid the kids wigging out, I sometimes volunteered my throne to the parents while I stood out of sight behind the chair. Even with this, the little dears would turn this-way-and-that to see if I was still there. As long I remained hidden, all was well.
For the kids, the real horror came when our Helpers helped get the kids on my lap. Not only would they scream, but they’d stiffen their backs the better to slide off, and thrash and hit and bite. More than one kid looked at me the way he’d look at something that crawled out of a grave — the Abomination incarnate. It bothered me to see this reaction and if it was really bad, I’d break off the session and tell mom to come get her sweetie before he had a stroke.
This year, I finally realized there was more to this than met the eye so I ran an experiment. One afternoon, feigning an itch in an unmentionable spot, I told Helper Mike to go sit on my throne while I hid behind the counter and asked Helper Jane to place a one-ish/two-ish kid on Helper Mike’s lap. Soon a Mom with such a kid checked in at the door and Helper Jane escorted the duo to the throne. On seeing Helper Mike sitting there, the little devil simply cooed, smiled and drooled.
Then Helper Jane told mom Santa was back and can do the photo. Mom took her kid from Helper Mike’s lap and I took the throne. On getting one glimpse of me, the kid displayed the same bad reaction I’d seen in so many others.
Over the next few days, when conditions permitted, I ran this experiment several times. In all cases, the kids’ reactions were the same. But it wasn’t me, for in the off-season kids may look at me with some curiosity, but that’s about it. So it’s not my face that terrifies them.
Indeed, in polling other Santas, I find they too see this fear in 1-2 year old kids. Indeed, something pathological was going on here. But what?
Then I understood what it was. It’s the red suit.
The red suit was the only difference between me and Helper Mike. But why this reaction? Then I understood; red is the color of blood. I suspect there is some kind of instinct which alerts 1-2 year-old kids to the peril and threat that spilled blood connotes. As Santa’s suit is nothing if not blood red, children find it frightening.
So I propose another experiment. In the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, St, Nicholas (Santa Claus) is described as, “dressed all in fur from his head to his foot.” So why not create a furry Santa Suit and put the red Santa Suit in the closet? Have one of the traditional photographers try out the furry suit and see how it goes? For even better results, use the furry and red Santas on alternate days. Dimes to doughnuts says the problem of screaming, terrified kids goes away when the furry suit is used.
Of course we have so much vested in the red-suited Santa Claus that making such a change would be nigh onto impossible. But before dismissing this suggestion out of hand, we’d do well to recall that the red-suited Santa was created by Coca-Cola for an advertising campaign. The furry suit was the way Santa Claus was originally described.
If we make this change, Christmas might be a lot more enjoyable for the tots. And if we can’t make the change, we should have some policy such that any 1-2 year old kid starting to scream is immediately removed from the set. Personally, I say forcing a terror-stricken child sit on Santa’s lap is an exercise in sadism.
Let’s try the furry suit and see if it helps.