Ah, Santa Claus. Was there ever anyone that inspired more excitement and terror at the same time? I think there are many kids that have a kind of love/hate relationship with the "jolly old elf". I don't remember ever going to visit Santa at Christmas. The only real memory I have is being in the toy department of a store and hearing Santa and his elves walking around in the next aisle. I just "froze" and hope he didn't come down the aisle in which I was standing!
When my kids were born, I didn't want them to be afraid of Santa because I think he is one of the truly fun things about Christmas. My oldest son, Daniel, was born in October, so he was just an infant for his first Christmas. We took him to the mall and stood in line for about 15 minutes so he could have his picture taken with Santa. Originally, it was just so we and his grandparents would have a cute picture for Christmas, but it actually came in handy the following year when we started planning Daniel's next visit with Santa.
Afterward, he would take his place at a large red and white chair in front of the room and the children were welcomed to come up and sit on the floor all around him as one of the elves read "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Following the story, each child was given a gift. Twice they were given mugs that read "I Had Breakfast with Santa Claus" and a couple of times they received small stuffed animals. Then, Santa would leave the restaurant and take his place downstairs to greet each child individually and hear their Christmas wish lists. It was a precious time for our family and I carry those memories in my heart. That department store closed it's restaurants a few years ago and the breakfasts with Santa and those with the Easter Bunny came to a sad end. The branch of the store where we attended our breakfast will soon be closed as well. It certainly is the end of an era. I'm happy that my children were part of a generation that were able to see the magic of Santa Claus up close.