The Christmas season is full of tradition. There are traditions that we all share, like decorating our homes, sending cards to loved ones, and of course the turkey dinner. Then there are the little traditions that each family has, some passed down through generations, and others built up as families grow. Ours is one of those.
Our little girl is 4 years old, and since she was born we have always brought her to visit the same Santa Claus. If you’re local to Belfast, you’ll probably already know (and if you don’t, you really should) that the real Santa Claus frequents the grotto in Castle Court. This is the Santa that we visit. He is lovely, and there is something special about looking back at the photographs of those annual visits with the same two faces in the frame. This has become a Christmas tradition for our family, and when I look back on these visits to Santa I remember the smiling face of our little girl. It’s magical, truly magical.
I could stop here without telling you the whole truth, but in the interests of full disclosure I’ll elaborate. But please be aware that what follows is not for the faint-hearted among you.
Any annual trip to Belfast in December should only be embarked upon by the most organised and determined of people. Parking alone is an absolute nightmare, especially on a cold rainy Saturday in December, as was the case for us this year. You’ve got to be in town and parked long before any of the shops are open in order to guarantee a stress free parking experience (I’m sure this is the same all across the country in the run up to Christmas).
Don’t even bother if you haven’t had a good night’s sleep! You’ll be in trouble from the very beginning. Belfast at Christmastime requires energy, this year we hit the town on a broken night’s sleep. Never a good idea!
If you arrive at the grotto early and it’s not yet open (and why would it be if the shops aren’t even open yet?!) wait anyway. Be first in line. Don’t wander off the get breakfast or something, because invariably you’ll return 15 minutes later to a two hour long queue of other families united in the common goal of seeing the real Santa. If you do however find yourself queuing to see the big guy please know that it will take every ounce of energy (this is where the good night’s sleep comes in) and motivation that you’ve got not to throw the towel in after waiting 45 minutes just to get to the sign that says ’45 minute wait from this point’. But remember, you’re doing it for the kids. Don’t ponder as to why said kids are sitting comfortably in the food hall playing some form of electronic device while you stand in line, drowning under a pile of coats? It may begin to feel like you’ve been handed the fuzzy end of the lollipop, but try not to fret. Use this time for a little meditation, chant calmly, breathe.
The closer you get to the top of the line the more impatient you may feel. Now you need to gather the kids together, making sure everyone is looking ‘photo ready’ while they bounce up and down excitedly asking repeatedly ‘is it our turn?’. Once you reach the top of the line your mood will surely start to lift again as you see your little ones gather around Santa telling him what they’d like for Christmas and happily smiling for the camera (even though five minutes ago they were swinging from the railings and trying to slap each other with Christmas headgear).
You’ve done it!! Two hours of waiting. Two hours of rocking from one leg to the other, because who can stand that long? Two hours of keeping the kids entertained without ruining their clothes, hair or faces. Two hours to complete a walk of 100 meters (even though it feels like you’ve completed a marathon). Two hours just to see those happy little faces when they step into that grotto to meet Santa.
With all of this in mind, will we be continuing this particular tradition next year? Of course we will!! Over time we’ll forget the stress of parking, the long wait, the disgruntled child, and what will remain is the wonderful memory of Santa (the real Santa), and who wouldn’t wait twice as long for that?
The Storybook Mummy xxx