The Best Santa Experience
Posted on December 03 2019
I'm 11 years in on the Santa experience. I've visited the mall Santa, the special in-store Santa, the Santa village complete with elves and Mrs. Claus, Santa on a firetruck, and the at home Santa. I've hosted Santa in the shop and seen the countless ways children react to the big man in the red suit. It runs the gamut from pure delight to sheer terror. I've seen the resulting portraits from dozens (hundreds maybe) of these visits and have learned a few things along the way.
This year, Angela Bartels, with Angela Bartels Photography invited me and my girls along with friends to "The Premier Santa Experience" at her downtown studio. I knew immediately in talking with Angela this was different than any visit we'd done before.
First we had a brief phone meeting where I answered her questions. We chatted about my girls' Christmas lists, their pets, their favorite things and any toys or books special to us at Christmastime. She asked about food allergies and if we'd like to incorporate a Christmas prayer into our visit. I hung up planning to bring my youngest daughter's American Girl doll and our favorite Christmas storybook.
Next, my girls received Golden Tickets in the mail inviting them to have milk and cookies with Santa. Even my 11 year old was intrigued. A note for me was tucked in and full of tips to make the day amazing.
And it was amazing. We felt like we'd stepped into a storybook and the children and Santa were the characters. Everything was scripted but not at all forced. All the kids (ages, 2, 6, 6, 11) were enchanted and I didn't have to do a thing. I sat back and watched the magic unfold while Angela and her assistant (and Santa) handled out of place hairs, cookie crumbs, and pulled up nightgowns. They enjoyed a full hour of milk and cookies, stories, list making, magical painting, and a prayer thanking God for sending his son, Jesus, to be born in a manger on Christmas Day. As much experience as I have with Santa, Angela is the true expert. Here are her top 10 tips to help make your next Santa visit magical:
1. Schedule your Santa visit for early in the day especially if your little ones still nap. Don't pack other activities into your day before the visit. Children can sense when you're stressed or rushed.
2. Select the time and place appropriate for your children. If they don't do well in crowds and chaos, a Santa visit at a mall might not be your best bet. If it takes your child time to adjust avoid a rushed experience where other children are waiting in line right behind them.
3. Prepare! Build the excitement in the days leading up to the big visit. Read books and watch movies about Santa so your child can greet him with confidence.
4. Hold a dress rehearsal. Act out the visit explaining each step. Place your child on the lap of a family member pretending to be Santa. Practice saying Ho, Ho, Ho together. Or set up a pretend Santa in a chair and have your child's stuffed friends line up to each take a turn.
5. Choose comfy outfits. I love vintage style pajamas or soft cozy outfits. If kids feel good in what they're wearing they will be more cooperative. These styles also create a timeless keepsake of the visit if you're having portraits taken.
6. On the day of the visit, make sure children are fed and well rested. It's hard for anyone to have a jolly time when they're tired or hungry.
7. Before the session, be cheerful and whimsical. Laugh and be sure you are having fun. This allows the child to feel safe and secure following your lead.
8. If your child is hesitant, let parents and siblings greet and visit Santa first. Let the child take the lead on getting close to Santa. Portraits sitting nearby Santa can be just as perfect as on his lap.
9. Pack a holiday snack! A candy cane or Christmas cookie can turn a frown upside down and work wonders in getting a little one to cooperate. Let them keep it during the visit..it will look just fine in a portrait. Non-edible treats work too. If your child has a comfort toy, bring it along and hand it to them if they get upset. A favorite lovey or teddy will look sweeter in portraits than tears.
10. Relax and enjoy. Let Santa and your photographer take the lead.
Ho. Ho. Ho. Merry Christmas!