We received so many wonderful submissions to our 2013 Homemade Holiday Shorts Story Contest that we wanted to share six more of our favorites with you! Every day this week we'll post a different author's story. Homemade Holiday Shorts will air live on December 15th at 6pm on WHQR 91.3 fm. Tune in (or purchase tickets to the live performance) to hear Rachel Lewis Hilburn read the winning story, Mebane Boyd's "Kurisumasu."
Crying with Santa
It’s that time of year again – my mother, father, sister and I arrive at the Cotton Exchange on a crisp December morning, bracing ourselves for what lies ahead. My sister Charlotte and I are wearing our identical white sweaters, the same sweaters that we’ve worn to this occasion for the past five or so years. My mother is armed and ready with her digital camera, which has a freshly-charged battery and a new memory card.
We cross the parking lot and enter the building. Before we can go inside, my mother stops us to take the customary picture of my sister and me standing on the old staircase in our white sweaters. I begin a mental count of how many pictures she’s taken – four on the staircase, countless more inside.
It takes us several minutes to navigate through the labyrinth of stores and restaurants tucked away within the Cotton Exchange. As we walk, I catch snatches of Christmas music that escapes from open doors. Strains of music from the Nutcracker seem to follow us as we walk past shops. Holiday decorations are everywhere, lining the narrow hallways and hanging from the ceilings. The whole place is brimming with holiday spirit.
When the strong smell of coffee from a nearby café fills the air, I know that we’re near our destination. As my mother becomes increasingly excited, my sister lets out a groan. She’s thirteen, and not a fan of the sacred holiday tradition that’s about to commence.
Ahead of us stands a crowd of people, surrounded by a weak golden glow. At the end of the hallway is a miniature winter wonderland, complete with Christmas trees, reindeer, and bright candy cane-shaped lights.
At the center of everything is Santa. He sits on his gilded throne, smiling and laughing with a toddler who is perched on his lap. The child’s parents snap rapid-fire pictures, documenting every moment of the scene. The kid looks like he’s getting a little tired of having his picture taken – I can definitely relate.
I stand in line with my family, waiting for our turn. Once the little kid is done with his visit to Santa’s lap, the next group steps up. It’s the Cape Fear Roller Girls, the local roller derby team.
It’s not too long before the Roller Girls are done with their visit, and then it’s our turn. My sister and I step forward in sync, vaguely embarrassed to be out in public while wearing our matching outfits.
“Ah, hello there! Merry Christmas!” Santa says, cheerful as ever.
“Hi, Santa!” my sister and I say.
My sister and I each sit on one of Santa’s knees, looking out to our parents. Our dad smiles at us while our mom fiddles around with her camera, pressing buttons and adjusting the settings.
As we wait for her to finish working with the camera, Santa launches into his annual spiel. My sister and I are much too old for the regular “What would you like for Christmas?” conversation, so instead Santa tells us about the values of cleaning our rooms, respecting each other, and not trusting boys.
My mom finishes fine-tuning her camera and gives us the thumbs-up.
Santa knows the deal: he sees this and turns to my sister and I. “Ready?” he asks.
My dad suppresses a grin. My mom raises her camera.
On the count of three, we all start crying.
I contort my face into the most miserable expression I can muster. I can feel my cheek muscles burning with the effort of looking as agonized as possible. Beside me, my sister screws her eyes shut and opens her mouth in a silent wail, her cheeks red with effort. Santa does the same, his face distorted with anguish.
We stay like this for a minute while my mom snaps pictures. My mental count of pictures skyrockets as my face starts to ache from maintaining such a ridiculous expression.
Every year around the holidays, pictures from past Christmases decorate every surface of my house. The pictures of me sitting on Santa’s lap from when I was one and two years old are fairly normal; like many other toddlers, I’m crying in quite a few of them, and the same goes for my sister. However, as we age in the photographs, the pictures become more and more bizarre.
Usually, as children age, they reach a point where they don’t freak out every time they go to see Santa. They realize that it’s not a scary experience, and it usually means getting a piece of candy. Like all other kids, my sister and I underwent this transformation; by the time my sister was five or so, we were both able to sit on Santa’s lap like civilized people.
Somewhere along the line, though, my mom decided that it would be a great idea to go back to the days where a trip to Santa’s lap meant screams and tears. By the time I was a teenager, my mother had begun taking pictures of my sister and me crying with Santa in addition to the regular photographs. The picture of a sixteen-year old me crying with Santa sits next to the picture of a two-year old me crying with Santa. Instead of receiving cards with a picture of us smiling next to a Christmas tree, our friends and family receive cards with the infamous pictures of Santa, my sister, and me bawling. It’s certainly a unique card to get in the mail. We make quite a scene every year to get the perfect picture, and we’ve been on the receiving end of a myriad of weird looks from people over the years.
The annual trip to sob with Santa has become a Christmas tradition for my family. Even though it’s more than a little embarrassing and probably one of the weirdest holiday customs ever, I still look forward to it every year. The holiday season definitely wouldn’t be the same without it. Plus, Santa recognizes us every year because of our crying pictures – and who wants to disappoint Santa?
Katharine Frazier is a senior at Isaac Bear Early College High School. She loves reading, writing, and birding in her free time. Her favorite holiday traditions are watching old Christmas movies and, of course, crying with Santa.