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I thought that this year would be the first time in my life that I’m not getting all dressed up and heading to the mall, all to take photos with an elderly bearded man dressed up as Santa. My mom started this tradition when I was born and has continued it since, with the first few photos featuring only myself, then with the addition of my little sister, and now my step-siblings too. 

When December rolls around, the mantle is lined with all of these framed photos, a literal walk down memory lane. The pictures show us through the years – myself as a sleeping baby, my little sister as a screaming and wailing toddler, and the awkward pre-teen stage of braces and acne in all its glory. 

The photos only capture a moment of the mall Santa experience. The whole process would start on an early weekend morning, with my mom placing us all in color-coordinated outfits and curling our hair. We would pile in the car and drive to our local mall to then, wait in line for about 45 minutes. One of the unsung joys of mall Santa is his elves, who are typically teenagers dressed up in red and green costumes, donning name tags with their new elf identities like “Cinnamon” and “Candy.” Once my sister and I could talk, we would spend most of the 45 minutes pestering these poor teenaged elves with questions about their time in the toy workshop, their travel from the North Pole to Washington State, and what Santa really does every day. 

When we finally reached the man himself, THE Santa, it was time to take THE picture. Being the oldest, I haven’t had to actually sit on Santa’s lap in many years, but my younger siblings aren’t as fortunate. While getting arranged for the photo, Santa will ask you what you’d like for Christmas, regardless of your age. I’ve had to get creative as I’ve gotten older – once you reach a certain age Santa doesn’t really believe that you want a Barbie for Christmas. I’ve asked for a variety of things in recent years – World Peace, new shoes, and college acceptances just to name a few. 

Behind the winter wonderland backdrop is a whole team to make the photo happen – the photographer, the parents, and a few people who can best be described as “smile-makers.” These smile-makers are tasked with keeping children happy (and looking at the camera) for the perfect photo, which is much easier said than done. They have an array of toys they use to occupy children, waving things like a stuffed animal around by the camera so that the photographer can capture the joyous moment with Santa. 

Once the photo is taken, the ever so helpful elves help parents purchase their photo package. This may be my favorite part of the whole experience because of the lollipops they provide, probably with the intention of keeping children quiet with their mouths full. These lollipops aren’t just any lollipops – the mall Santa I visit has candy cane Tootsie pops that I’ve yet to find anywhere else. It makes the whole debacle entirely worth the hassle. 

This Christmas, my schedule doesn’t align with my siblings’ schedules, so I thought I would get out of taking a Santa picture for the first time in my life. However, my mom’s commitment to this tradition is unwavering. She is planning on having my siblings take a photo with Santa all together and having me take a solo Santa picture, and then photoshopping the images together. I’m back to where I started as a six-month-old, taking a picture with Santa all by my lonesome, and I’m not so sure how to feel about it. What makes the picture special isn’t just the photo, it’s the collective experience I have with my siblings that makes it matter to me. So, this Christmas, even though I’m not the biggest fan of Santa photos, I’ll miss getting to share the holiday moment with my siblings. 

Kendall Foley

Conn Coll '24

Kendall Foley is a sophomore at Connecticut College majoring in Philosophy and pursuing a Pathway in Data, Information, and Society. At Conn, Kendall plays for the women's water polo team and is an intern in the Office of Student Accessibility Services. In her free time, you can find Kendall open-water swimming, baking, or spending time with her family.
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