By Susan M. Thigpen © 1983-2012
Issue: December, 1983
Do you remember the first time you ever saw a fully suited and bearded Santa? Did he scare you as much as he did me? I think the expression on my face in the photograph says it all as to my feelings.
That was the Christmas of 1953 and I had just turned nine years old. I’ve always wondered how many children had the same mixed feelings about their yearly visit to tell Santa what they wanted. I was scared of him. I was a naïve child and I knew a lot was riding on that visit. How else would he know what I wanted that year? I’m not a Catholic but I imagine it was something similar to going to a confessional. He always asked that same dreaded question, “Where you a good little girl (or boy) this year?” I always lied and said I was and felt there was guilt written all over my face. I could clearly remember all the things I had done. I feared somehow he could tell and knew about them anyway. There was even a song, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” which confirmed my suspicions. Seeing Santa was serious business! I actually dreaded it.
It seems the younger the child, the more frightening it can be. When my oldest daughter saw Santa for the first time, she was two years old. I was holding her hand, walking in the toy department of a large store, when he appeared, standing beside of her. When she got a look at him, she was frightened out of her wits! She climbed me like a tree and hung with both arms clutched firmly around my neck.
I’ve often wondered if the people who are hired to be those Santa’s are aware of the impact they have on children. My children are grown far beyond the need to see Santa anymore but a whole generation of two and three year olds will be seeing him for the first time this year. In today’s world, does Santa still have the same impact on them?
When I reached a sophisticated age where Santa pretenses could be abandoned, my parents simply said, “He will continue to come and see you as long as you believe in him. Otherwise, you’ll just get presents from us.” To the day both my sister and I got married and left home, we both opted for Santa and every Christmas morning the magic was laid out under the tree, unwrapped and arranged beautifully with loving care.
I am fortunate to still live with people who still hang stockings on Christmas Eve and sneak at various times of the night and early morning to fill those stockings with Christmas magic for each other. Peter Pan was right. A part of you never has to grow up if you don’t want to. Christmas should always be enjoyed through the eyes of a child.