As any family photographer knows, this is a very busy time of the year. We have been booking holiday sessions since August – photographing children and their families for their holiday cards and gifts for the grandparents. During the season we also take Santa photos at a few resorts and for some charities. All part of the charm of the season. I just love the nostalgia of Santa photos.
This year we had back to back dates with Santa and the setting could not have been more different. This past Sunday, we were photographing Santa and Mrs Claus at a beautiful private club. Families dressed in their gorgeous holiday outfits, hair perfectly coiffed, lists for Santa that included every electronic gadget you could think of, a warm fireplace, Santa and the Mrs in beautiful leather chairs, the perfect Christmas setting that has been written about in countless Christmas songs. Santa asked every child what they wanted, he asked them to narrow it down to two choices. He then, in his Santa way, instructed the kids to be good to their brothers and sisters, making no promises, these kids walked away all smiles and hope.
And then Monday we were at an apartment complex in North Phoenix. The two settings could not have been more different. A Charlie Brown Christmas setting (the words of the amazing man playing Santa that does everything he can to help the kids that live in these apartments have some sort of a normal childhood). Santa takes holiday pictures with all the kids and their families then prints them up and gives each family a framed photo at their holiday party. A community room in the complex office, a white tablecloth taped to the wall, a not so fancy Santa outfit, a small sparsely decorated tree, a bucket full of tiny candy canes and some Christmas music playing in the background. The kids were called in one family at a time, sat on Santa’s lap with smiles from ear to ear. There was no talk about what the kids wanted for Christmas, because Santa knew they weren’t going to get it.
The man behind Santa is just incredible – on his own he raises money to help these families, especially the kids in an effort to give them some sort regular childhood. The majority of the residents of this apartment complex are refugees from places like Rwanda (one girl listened while her family was butchered in another room), Liberia, Iran and Iraq. Each family has their own story of an atrocity or religious persecution. They have scars, physical and emotional. They came to the US to start a new life, but that has its own set of challenges.
This man tries to make it a bit easier for them. He does such an amazing job of doing this. In small ways that add up. Many of the kids from this complex now go off to college. One is about to graduate from NAU with a 3.2 GPA in Criminal Justice. This man has taken on this personal mission to help, to give without any strings attached. A beautiful story.
When we were driving the other day, Isabella asked me why Santa likes to give more to rich kids. She wanted to know why poor kids had to have people donate presents to their families instead of Santa just giving them the same amount to every family. Well that’s a really hard question to answer to a small child. I really did not have a good answer.
Having these opportunities certainly puts things in perspective for Keith and I. But after getting to know the families and kids at this special apartment complex I can tell you this much, these kids are so special. They also walked away from Santa with smiles and hope.
Tis the Season. Give where you can – a small gesture can make such a difference in the life of a child.