When I was a kid, every year my dad lined up with tens of other hard-core parents on a predetermined morning sometime in November. The mission? Get tickets for a beloved event: the Breakfast with Santa that took place on the top floor of the downtown Eaton’s in Victoria, British Columbia.
For much of my childhood, Breakfast with Santa was one of my family’s most important holiday traditions. This wasn’t just a meal with a man in a red suit: it was an experience. Anticipation began before the tickets went on sale. Would this be the year we were forced to go to an inferior Santa meet and greet? (It never happened. Best. Dad. Ever.) After our places at the Eaton’s breakfast table had been secured, preparations could begin. I typically romped around the neighbourhood in leggings and a grungy, oversized T-shirt, but wowing Santa with just the right Christmas dress assumed anxiety-attack-inducing imperativeness. The search had to start early since my parents’ budget was pretty small and I wasn’t a typically sized child, making shopping for party clothes a real headache. There was also the matter of going over, and over, and over the menu in my head, metaphorically salivating over the foods we almost never ate at home and I knew would be on offer that special morning when, the normal rules suspended, breakfast wouldn’t be wheat puffs. Crafting the perfect plate was thus something else to be carefully planned.
I’ll admit that I only vaguely remember what happened at Breakfast with Santa. This isn’t surprising given that I’m an adult with neurological issues that affect my memory and am writing about events that took place over twenty years ago. I do, however, recall the spirit of the whole deal, as well as its key components—that I got to eat a delicious meal and sit on Santa’s knee. It was (mostly) great.
There’s one portion of Breakfast with Santa that I can summon to mind much more readily and in much more detail. Trauma’s a powerful force, I guess.
A local magician—I’ll refer to him as, uh, “Mr. Snack Food”—was the entertainer responsible for hyping up the crowd of already-hyper children for the real show (Santa, obviously). Kids were expected to leave their parents, sit in a carpeted area in front of a temporary stage, and endure Mr. Snack Food’s performance. The man was terrifying. He was big on audience participation, and his main gimmick was the humiliation of one child for the entertainment of all the others. He therefore left you edgy and anxious until he and his popcorn-adorned top hat and suit had departed. (Would he pick you? Could you leave, just for this part? When was Santa coming?) Mr. Snack Food’s true gift was his ability to make his show freshly horrifying from year to year without actually changing it to any notable degree. And good luck staying back with your parents: wanting to enjoy a cup of coffee alone, they rejected the idea that you could watch Mr. Snack Food from afar. I wonder if Eaton’s had tactical reasons for perpetually rehiring Mr. Snack Food. Pretty much any Santa would have seemed like the gentlest, kindest, jolliest of old souls in comparison, after all.
Mr. Snack Food or no Mr. Snack Food, Breakfast with Santa remains a treasured Christmas memory. The mere thought that Santa would deign to share a meal with me, in Victoria more than made up for Mr. Snack Food’s antics, and the moment I saw Santa, two of my greatest little-girl beliefs/delusions were reaffirmed: Santa would pay me a visit on Christmas Eve, and my parents would eventually start buying sugar cereal.