FAIRBANKS — Meeting Santa Claus for the first time is a big deal. Amarah States proved it on Wednesday afternoon.
The 10-week-old girl patiently posed on St. Nick’s knee at the Bentley Mall, then promptly threw up on her new Christmas dress when the photo session was done.
“At least it wasn’t on Santa,” her mother, Jasmine States, said with a smile.
Such is life for Santa Claus, who has posed for hundreds of photos — with the young, old, happy, terrified and queasy — during the past three weeks at the Bentley Mall.
Santa — he wouldn’t offer another name — was winding down his last day of the season on Wednesday. He was characteristically jolly about his adventure, saying he’s savored the experience.
“You just have to love kids,” he said. “Believing in Santa yourself helps.”
With Christmas one day away, Santa was having no trouble attracting a crowd. He looked the part, down to his red suit, wire-rimmed glasses and authentic gray beard on his face.
“You can pull on it if you want to make sure it’s real,” he said, “and some of the kids do.”
Santas have been spotted this month making the rounds at malls, department stores and bazaars around Fairbanks. The last opportunity to get a photo is, not surprisingly, at Santa Claus House in North Pole. He’ll be there through Sunday, with the expected day off for Christmas.
At age 22, Jessie Huffaker was a bit older than most who were posing with Santa at the Bentley Mall on Wednesday. The University of Alaska Fairbanks journalism student had plenty of incentive, though — her father said he needed a photo of her with Santa in exchange for her tuition.
“I have to bring a picture to him or no college money for me,” Huffaker said.
She said it was a fun diversion, and she smiled happily while perched on his knee.
The rest of customers during the afternoon shift ranged from newborns to a foursome of West Valley High School students.
Cassius Wholecheese couldn’t help but cry when the cameras came out and the 2-year-old took his spot on Santa’s lap.
“He talks about Santa all day, and we get here and it’s a totally different story,” his frustrated mother, Rochelle Wholecheese, said.
Despite the common stories of terrified toddlers, not all visits with Santa end in tears. Caryn McElroy arrived to pick up photos of her 14-month-old daughter, Sedona, and was thrilled to see a sweet, beaming child on his lap.
“She wasn’t scared at all,” Caryn said. “I thought she might cry, but she was happy to see him.”
Even the unscripted moments can be fun. Bawling kids provide some good stories for parents, and one of the most memorable moments at the Bentley Mall this year came courtesy of a boy who couldn’t stop himself from hopping on Santa’s knee as they walked through the mall. After about 30 visits, his father finally dragged him away.
“The disasters are a fabulous thing by themselves,” Santa said. “You just hold on and let them play themselves out.”
The Bentley Mall Santa had only one other experience posing for St. Nick photos, many years ago at an old job. But when he saw an ad for work at the Bentley Mall, he snapped up the opportunity.
The experience has been fun enough that he’s already excited about reliving it next year.
“Would I do it again?” he said. “Absolutely.”