In a scene from the cult Christmas film A Christmas Story, Ralphie visits a mall Santa Claus. The gleam in his eyes during the Christmas parade tells us everything we need to know: this kid thinks that his dreams of a Red Ryder BB Gun will come true, if only he can make it to Santa’s lap in time. A long line of kids and a tedious parade stands before him like some glitzy, tinselled obstacle he must hurdle.
And yet, once he stands in line with his brother, bombarded with the view of hundreds of children getting to throw their hopes and dreams Santa’s way, he falters. He forgets what he wants, so overloaded with the joy of getting to tell Santa his perfect present. Ralphie is at a loss for words, totally thrown by the all-mighty powers of St. Nick, the man who can make or break this Christmas.
Is Ralphie actually frightened of St. Nick? Most likely not, although the Santa and elves of A Christmas Story have probably just made a break from the hoosegow anyway. No, his terror does not stem from the fat man’s long, white beard or the way that Santa laughs in such a deep-throated style. It comes from a fear something akin to looking into the face of God – there’s a feeling of reverance within Ralphie, of course, but there’s also that dread of knowing that this guy knows all, he’s judge-jury-executioner, and there are some moments in your past that you’d really like to take back right about now.
I think there are definitely some children that are frightened of Santa Claus because of this: he can make your wishes come true, but knowing that there might be something you did that he disapproves of means you might be spending your Christmas playing with a nice dull piece of coal.
But I don’t think it’s the only reason that children are afraid of Santa. For one, he’s completely imposing. As a fat, tall man, he’s so much larger than any child that it immediately exposes a sense of alarm. The ridiculous red suit doesn’t help – when does someone normal ever wear something like that? In a way, it creates a stranger-danger response in a child – first of all, I’ve never met this guy in my life, and now I have to sit on his lap?
It’s something that we probably want our kids to recognize – that sitting on a strange man’s lap is not okay – but we’re sending mixed messages. I don’t blame the kids for getting scared of a guy who apparently can see whatever they do, and he also slips through their chimneys or their doors on Christmas Eve; who knows what he might do to the BAD kids? If you make it to Christmas day, you must have done something good.
So what I’m really interested in writing up this post is if any of the readers out there were ever scared to sit on Santa’s lap or to see him at the mall. I know my sister always was, and she pretty much refused to see him (I also remember her being pretty afraid for him to come on Christmas Eve). I was never really afraid to sit on Santa’s lap – more embarrassed than anything – but I know that everyone has their own feelings when they’re kids. Shoot some comments below!