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On the weekend I got roped into playing Santa for the local Lions Club.
It's not the first time I've been coerced into masquerading as the jolly red gentleman and it probably won't be the last but I have to wonder why on earth we do this.
In theory, Santa is a big, chubby, welcoming, heart-warming guy who speaks with a loud but welcoming tone. He bounces small children on his knees while parents take a million and one pictures that get emailed off to friends and relatives around the globe.
Santa's big soft white beard and his rosy cheeks are surely attractive to kids of all age and everyone wants to tell him what gifts they'd like for Christmas... right?
Hell, no, at least not in my experience.
For a start, I was a little concerned about the sensibility of having a stream of kids passing across Santa's lap during a global pandemic. That simply didn't seem like a sensible thing to do, when we're trying to keep the risk of transmission to a minimum.
However, the Lions had checked with the relevant authorities who assured them that this was okay, so long as no more than 100 people were in the building at a time and providing the other measures (masks etc) were being observed.
To be brutally honest however, the sight of Santa wearing a mask was probably not the best idea.
I know that I'm no oil painting at the best of times but the reality of my wrinkled old face can't be easily disguised by a red hat, jacket and pants.
This became increasingly apparent as the day went on.
Most of the kids under about seven or so were clearly not as keen to visit Santa as were their parents.
Most of the littlies (under 5s) cried and struggled for freedom, even when they were being held by their mothers who sat next to me for the pictures.
The older ones were less frightened but surprisingly reluctant to divulge exactly what gifts they were hoping for this Christmas. Most were stubbornly mute when questioned about such things.
However, parents kept lining up and thrusting their screaming or horrified kids into frame for that "picture with Santa", even though the expressions on their faces were little short of utter horror.
It seems that visiting Santa in the lead-up to Christmas is not something done for the kids' benefit but something done for the parents and extended family.
I'm pretty sure that most of the hundreds of pictures that were taken on parents' phones will have been deleted by New Year's day and hopefully the traumatised kids will have recovered enough to come out of their wardrobes by then.
In a way, I feel kind of guilty for being party to this horror-fest but then again, we should do whatever we can for the community if it is requested of us... right?
So a word to parents... don't force your kids to visit Santa just because you want a cute picture for the family. Just slip the old fella a few bucks for his time and maybe a bottle of Bourbon to help his cheeks look even more rosy as he endures hour after hour perched on an uncomfortable wooden chair amidst the screams of yet another unwilling victim.
If you don't, I swear I'll promise your kids that Santa will bring them an entire litter of puppies and a pony for Christmas!
Do readers have any early memories of Santa and those little grottos that many of the department stores used to set up. I seem to recall that there were all sorts of animated dioramas and long queues of parents with kids in tow, all lined up for their few seconds of dialog with the big guy, however things seem to have changed a lot in recent times.
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