A picture with Santa is one of those "must do" items on the Christmas check off list along with baking cookies and decorating the tree. For me, it is doubley exciting since my kiddos and my sister's kiddos take the picture together: 4 cousins, 2 laps, and a Santa in a pear tree.
But take heed: the magical idea one creates in their mind of reliving their childhood Santa pictures through their own children is by no means easy. Last year, I came home early and without Husband to NJ with both kids (both barely under 2) and getting two kids dressed in Christmas attire, coats-scarves-hats-gloves on, in the car, out of the car, in the stroller, to the mall, on line, and on Santa's lap was it's own version of hell; a hell that should be accurately captured by the end product.
What a crock it would be if after running behind kids in a crowded mall and knocking into people and waiting on line with tantrum-bellowing kids, they got to Santa's lap and smiled gloriously. That wouldn't truly reflect the spirit of Christmas pictures at the mall. By the time you reach Santa's chair, you should hope for a serious-faced kid staring blankly at the camera - or if you're lucky, like us two years ago, we hit pure gold with the trifecta of holiday picture taking.
So if you too want the world's best worst holiday picture with Santa, follow some of these steps.
2. Let the kids outnumber the adults. This is a terrific start to ensuring the outing will end with the world's best worst picture. When you have more kids than adults and add in enough space and down time, kids will inevitably run around the mall like delinquent elves on crack so that by the time they reach Santa everyone is cranky b*tch Betty White. However, at least two adults are needed: one to hold the place in line and the other to chase a kid (probably the youngest). Attempting less than two adults could result in total mission failure.
3. Don't overestimate the kids. Don't expect them to patiently wait on line. Don't expect them to be reasonable and proper. Don't expect them to follow directions, at least, not well. These are mini humans that pick their nose and eat it and that take their pants off in public. High expectations are the devil's friend on picture day.
4. Have bribes handy. Offer lollipops and gumdrops and - crap - offer them a bottle of spiced rum if it will help. I'm not usually one for the bribery but some circumstances, like waiting in a long line in a crowded mall during the busiest days of the year to take a picture with an old dude in a furry red and white costume might just call for it.
4a. ... but listen to the sluttly girl warning: why pay for the cow when you're giving away the milk for free. Don't offer up your goods right away, parents. Stash away that bag of bribery until you really need it. It might just save your life from that moment when you notice your child is beginning their ascension up the crazy coaster and about to come down like rolling thunder. You're almost there. The silly, face-making, camera elves are on the horizon.
5. Crank 'em up. You know those times, parents, when your kids are calm all on their own and then someone comes around getting them all excited. All the while we look at them like What the .... are you doing? Don't get my kid all hopped up on excitement. You think Let sleeping dogs lay. Don't wake the monster but before you could intervene, kid is in full throttle again. Break out the spiced rum. Put a straw in it. Drink it, parent. You've arrived.
Front of the line. You're next. And right on cue, your kids starts wailing. See... kids love Santa in theory but put 'em in front of His Royal Jolliness, in reality, and terror is unleashed. Kicking, crying, snotty-noses, and arms thrown towards mom in a last effort to save themselves, I'd say the kids are ready for their close up.
6. Rationally explain to your kids that Santa is a good guy. This makes kids even angrier since kids never respond reasonably when you rationalize with them.
7. Encourage the camera elf who is waiting for the perfect chance to take the perfect picture that there is a reason cameras have a continuous shooting mode. Start shooting, elf! Keep shooting and shoot everything. Shoot the worst, hope for the best.
8. Tell your kids This will only take a second. Kids love that. Now tell one kid to stare blankly, the other to look up at the sky in lost abandon, and the last one to pout unhappily like in that Santa song. Hold them in place if needed. Snap, snap. Almost done.
9. Keep Calm and Santa On. Embrace the holidays. It is madness. Pure, beautiful madness and I adore it. From the way my back hurts when I've wrapped too many gifts to these timeless pictures of kids crying on Santa's lap - it isn't meant to be perfect, let alone look perfect. So don't take it too seriously. No one will ever judge you - or your kids - based on Santa pictures.
10. Don't worry, there's always next year to repeat this year's Christmas insanity.