SCARED OF SANTA: Scenes of Terror in Toyland

December 8, 2008 9:42:12 AM PST
Ah, the sounds of the Christmas. Sleigh bells ringing, carolers in the street, the patter of reindeer hoofs on the roof -- and the terror-stricken wail of a child sitting on a mall Santa's lap.Yes, our parents did it to us, we do it to our kids and, despite any lingering trauma, our kids will probably do it to theirs. Why not subject children to the public humiliation of a photo session with Santa, in all his frightening red-velveteen splendor, even if it involves a few blood-curdling screams? How else can we collect those treasured memories, captured forever in black-and-white and living color?

Struck by the singular charm of this American tradition, Chicago Tribune editors Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins asked readers to send in their own pictures with Santa. They received hundreds of photos--from decades-old heirlooms to last year's favorites--featuring the crying, the squirming, and the panic-stricken. When they began posting the pictures on the Tribune website , it generated almost a third of the site's total visits.

Now Joyce and Watkins have collected 250 of the most agonizingly hilarious photos in SCARED OF SANTA: Scenes of Terror in Toyland and have added dead-on captions that well express the true meaning of this Christmas ritual ("Please, let me keep what's left of my dignity!"). Grouped thematically, these snippets of the "fright before Christmas" celebrate the titans of tears, the pouters and doubters, and some of the world's youngest escape artists.

"We waited in line for forty-five minutes and nothing but smiles," reports Chris Shoup of daughter Maggie's 2006 encounter with a notably congenial-looking rent-a-Santa. "Forty-five seconds after, nothing but smiles. The two minutes in between: painful." As her kids approached, Sarah Carlson heard Santa tell one of his elves, "Watch out, we've got some criers here." She now has photographic proof that Santa does indeed know. Looking back at her 1958 Santa encounter, Mary Margaret Sullivan confesses, "I've had a hinky feeling about bearded men since then."

And then there are the Santas themselves--from the jovial to the beleaguered to the downright scary. ("Can I borrow her for my probation hearing?") But Santa has feelings, too. Pity the St. Nick with beard askew. And is that diaper leaking? In the end, Joyce and Watkins conclude, "Whatever they pay Santa, it isn't enough."

Destined to become a holiday classic, SCARED OF SANTA is sure to delight anyone who has felt Santa's velvet grip, even those who had managed to suppress the memory.

About the Authors

Denise Joyce, the mother of two well-adjusted young adults, is a longtime editor for the Chicago Tribune, and has the gold watch to prove it. Her daughter skipped merrily up to Santa in Cozy Cloud Cottage, but her son still views Santa and all clowns with deep suspicion.

Nancy Watkins is an editor and writer for the Chicago Tribune. She is much too good a mother to have ever forced her son, now 11, to sit on Santa's lap