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  • Writer's pictureSharon Uy

#33. Tradition

Twenty-five years ago, Nadya and I were 14 years old with nothing better or worse to do than go to the mall and see what we could buy using the $20 our parents gave us to keep busy and begin a life journey of shopaholicism. In a bid to practice irony and take jokes to a more augmented level, we laughingly decided to take Santa pictures. "How silly are we," we squealed, "taking Santa pictures at fourteen!" Little did we know we were joining in à trois (pas ménage) with Santa to birth a tradition 25 years in the making, and that the stakes would, some years, get even sillier.

Allow us to take you on a non-psychedelic journey throughout the decades, featuring the fashions and ideals of two Valley girls and one (occasionally) jolly dude..

(*adapted in part from a long somethin' written three years ago, the year of our Covid, 2020 AD)

The year: 1999. The grade: 10th. We have no money, no drivers' licenses, no boyfriends. But we somehow are able to afford these snazzy skater outfits (posers) and taking Santa pictures on a whim, which, if you've ever tried it, snatches up about 3% of your monthly adult salary.

Interesting to note Santa's hand placement upon Nadya's waist area, like he has Barbie hands that remain in one plastic position no matter how you try to manipulate them with your tiny fingers or the flames of a lighter.

We vow here and now to take Santa pictures every year, but it is to be determined whether the promise will keep. After all, high school is a fickle time.

Ah, the year 2000. The year the world thought everything was going to end, and when it didn't, we corrected ourselves and said that it would end the following year, because we somehow got math wrong.

While these Santa pictures may have begun in partial jest, these outfits were not playing. These outfits also did not garner us strange looks, because at least half the other mall-goers our age were dressed similarly and foolishly. Santa's face looks plastered on his skull, and I'll bet three of those blue candy canes that he had to soak his face in warm lye every night to return to normal.

Attention must be paid to my fake silver Ruff Ryders chain. We watched Dude, Where's My Car? afterwards, with our respective dates, sitting clear across the theater from each other.

Classic teenager shit.

Is it difficult to tell that we were wearing white wife beaters and blue sweatpants? A very 2001 vibe - sweats as acceptable fashion. I have continued to wear and openly embrace variations of this outfit every year since.

There's not much to say about this one. It was our senior year of high school, and at this point, we had definitely sworn to not let anything stop us from taking these pictures every year until one of us died, after which the other would bring the deceased's urn and continue forth. The high schooler's version of a living will.

Honestly, we look like we got high with Santa before and after this picture was taken.

2002. Now that we were in college, whether a bona fide university or one of the community variety, we had to dress like a-dults. You know, emphasis on the "a." No more fucking around with matching outfits. That's kid shit.

This sweater was from Gap, and those stiff-ass jeans were Sergio Valentes, and I'd be damned if those cork wedges I was wearing didn't make me look 17 years older than I did 12 months ago. Look at those French tips and those thin highlights. Nadya, on the other hand, looks like she could get plopped into any year and not stand out as untimely, except for maybe her naivety which only went away three years ago with the birth of her first child, and the white whiskered jeans thing, which I'm glad is gone for good.

It's difficult to fathom that it can get more ghetto than this Santa picture from 2003, though I'm not one to challenge myself in any way whatsoever. One year into college, we've both exited the idea that we were grown folks, and have gladly returned to Earth. I remember that Nadya would return home from San Diego for winter break and straightaway get a job at the mall, because she had motivation and liked money. I, on the other hand, didn't give a single fleeting thought to the idea of work for another 5 years. I did, though, give far too much agonized thought to my overactive armpit sweat glands, evidenced here in this blurry picture. It was a source of deep shame back then, but with CertainDri and, subsequently, age, fucks are now impossible to be found.

2004. If our faces could speak (as opposed to... our mouths), they would say, "What have we gotten ourselves into?" or "I'm bored of this tradition." But when you commit to something, you commit. And that's the end of it! At this point, 6 years, we've already lasted longer than many people's first marriages. And that is something to be proud of, in addition to Nadya's having learned to perfect the application of her foundation and my discovery of a really effective push-up strapless bra.

We've had this Santa for 3 years not in a row, and I guarantee he didn't remember us or care that he got to keep his hands within six inches from the sides of our bodies.

2005. Nadya graduated from UCSD this year, three years after starting, with a major and a minor, while I was cautioned to drop my minor because it was fucking up my GPA. In the end, nobody cares about your GPA. Also, you can just lie about it, because life as an adult in the modern age with social media means lots of lies.

Please note how we are standing here because the impressive circumference of Santa's body would not allow us to sit down, as well as the twinkle in Nadya's eye at having to do so.

As you can see, we attempted to match without matching exactly, and I was wearing my hair up for a year because I had my hair cut into a really unfortunate mullet a few months prior. People tell me I can pull off wearing a paper bag, and maybe I can, but a mullet? Definitely not.

You know, every year, as we approach Santa in a line filled with excited children of all ages, Nadya gets nervous and doesn't know how to speak to him. "Hello, Santa," she says meekly in a soft voice that reeks of respect and fear, her head bowed ever so slightly. And every year, I watch as this three-second exchange unfolds, and I shake my head internally. Does she know he's not real? I don't want to be the one to break it to her. His weight may fluctuate each year, sometimes drastically, but otherwise I can see how it's hard to differentiate. After all, he's an old man with a white beard and glasses. What little magic is left within our hearts, only to dwindle each year, is not mine to take from anyone, most of all my best friend. And so, I lay my head down each night after we take our pictures, knowing I've done my good deed for the year. The magic lives on.

PSA: Friends shouldn't let friends get bangs in 2007 or any other year in the history of time.

Anyway, we try to keep some semblance of a theme going, and this year it's: drumroll, please -solid-colored long-sleeved shirts!

Did you know that we never allowed our boyfriends to accompany us to the mall to take Santa pictures? Until last year, but you can read about that in... 12.

It appears that not much has changed from 2007 to 2008, fashion-wise. Santa, though, has either lost a few or gotten a bigger couch. "Don't sit on m'legs, ladies, I've less cushion this year."

I believe I was almost a year into my first real job, with a penchant for gaudy fake-engagement rings and fake Uggs. Nadya looks about 15-20 lbs. lighter here than in the last picture, which means she was either much happier or much sadder than the previous year.

2009! Ten years of Santa pictures! We can't believe we made it this far! The friendship, that is. Just kiddin'. We're in it to win both life and Santa's balls, obviously. This year was our first foray into photoshopping. Let that be a bit of foreshadowing. (Insert creepy winking emoji.)

Recreating our 1999 photos took moderate effort and way too much time in the boys' section of Macy's. (Insert another creepy winking emoji.)

This Santa is looking trés Californian, n'est ce pas? I will forever be proud and defensive over the few phrases I learned from one quarter of French in college.

Lol + Smh = Sigh. It's hard for me to find actual words about this one. We are recreating our 2000 photos here, successfully and embarrassingly. Maybe I look so happy here because I met the love of all of my lifetimes (jbow) a few months prior. Not sure what Nadya's excuse is. Oh! I actually think we were sort of fighting this year! Classic. See? Definition of commitment: take the pictures even when you aren't liking each other as much as you would like to like each other. Ah, so she can fake the funk. Hmm. I think this may be the only time she's ever not worn her heart on her sleeve. Belatedly, I am honored.

When do we get to stop recreating the photos from ten years prior? This year, actually. 2011. You know what? This Santa is looking far too smug for me to be retroactively comfortable. Was it our luscious locks? My cleavage? Nadya's enticing and exposed bra strap? We'll never know, and perhaps some things are better left un-figured out.

While we never allowed our partners to join us on these yearly jaunts, we, for some reason, acquiesced to some young bucks asking us to join in their own Santa pictures. Won't post that here because this isn't about them. Even though this paragraph... is about them. Damn it. Anyway, they never asked for our numbers. Maybe it was just that innocent. Back then, that was believable. These days, you can't trust anybody!

Another interesting choice on all our parts: Nadya and I in our sex-worker trench coats and nude, glossy lips; Santa's slimy leer. There's even something lascivious about our hairstyles. Perhaps this is the wrong-est of all our Santa pictures. Let's just change the channel. Next!

2013. We're back in business. If the business is appropriately complementary outfits. Not if the business is an inappropriately visaged Santa. My god, can we get a background check on aisle bougie of the new version of the Topanga mall castle?

I remember we had drinks about four steps away at the fancy CPK bar either before or after or both. I believe that was a first. All the other years, Nadya was hurrying us off so she could attend to more pressing friendships. If I had known all I needed to do was get alcohol involved, I would have begun drinking back in 2000 when I was 16 instead of almost 18.

Okay, Santa of 2014 is looking far less threatening than the last few. This is good. Also good are our outfit choices, hair, and faces. Though my blond phase was a bit much, it doesn't look too bad here, but I could be mistaken. After all, we see things as we are, not as they are.

I was almost done with grad school, and towards the end of that I was changing my hairstyle and color every two weeks. Now, to cope with major transitions, I simply meditate. It's more cost-effective and portable.

If this were a social justice art piece analysis, I would go into how depictions of "good" and "evil" as represented by the colors black and white have caused unspoken racial detriment for far longer than post-modern theories suggest racism has been in existence, and how shifting the narrative towards the use of color in portraying emotions positing the very existence of

"good" and "evil" should be the cynosure of disquisition.

2015. What a year. It was a year of heartbreak, of weight gain, of darkly lined lips, and dreams of--wait a minute. Dafuq? Why is Santa so skinny? Surely I hadn't gained that much weight to overshadow Santa. Who let this makeshift skid-row Santa up in here? I guess it matches our vibe. I do hope he takes advantage of them cookies the kiddies leave him. Make them gluten-free, plant-based, and keto-friendly, so he will bite.

Trust me when I say that 2016 is the last year I ever listen to Nadya when it comes to what we wear. Even Santa is like, "Uhh... y'all look foolish as fuck." Peep his cringe like he's Fire Marshall Bill mid-aneurysm. That can't be good.

I really can't pinpoint the most humiliating part of these outfits. Is it the giant reindeer headbands? Well, yes. Yes, it is. I guess I can pinpoint. Maybe it's part of the charm, to spend at least one hour a year experiencing public shame at one of a number of malls in the greater Los Angeles area. Maybe the Christmas gift we receive from our annual Santa pictures is humility. Or maybe this is the year to end all of that.

See? Doesn't this feel better? In 2017, when our outfits are "normal" and not emotionally degrading, Santa responds by no longer cringing, although calling it a "smile" would be generous, if not very inaccurate.

After last year, you can bet your ass I told Nadya, "Let's just show up in whatever we happen to be wearing." Et voila! Looks like we just stumbled into the mall and happened to, on a whim similar to the one we had 19 years ago, decide on Santa pictures. Ironically, I think this is the vibe of this new era, to give off "super casz" while fully mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically preparing months in advance.

20 years baby! We old! Yet, we look so refined and gorgeously gold. This particular Santa and his helpers finally give us the recognition we beg for each year when we show them all of our previous Santa pictures. I think this Santa even posted a picture of it on his Instagram! (Lol.)

My favorite part of this event was Santa's unsolicited telling us that his hands had to be visible at all times. Timely.

After this, we celebrated by buying makeup and gorging ourselves at BJ's. I believe Nadya also took like 10 Panettone boxes that they were giving away for free. No limit soldier, that one. We also fantasized about becoming Reddit famous off of having done this for 20 years, but apparently the market's oversaturated.

2019. Well, it was supposed to be the third version of our first Santa pictures. I have looked at this picture many times and still have trouble understanding how we went from skater girl to prison chic.

I am proud of Nadya for committing to the hairstyle. It feels good to know that someone else is committed to the same thing you are, but if 21 years doesn't let you know, then you have trust issues and need professional help. But where do the professionals go? Where does it end? Or begin? If you've made it this far, kudos. Really, kudos to all of us for having made it anywhere at all.

2020, baby! They said it wouldn't last! We had to prove them wrong! Perfectly stated, Janet Jackson, Miss Jackson if you NASTAY.

Look, we really did think our Santa pictures would happen this year, despite rolling lockdowns and the ongoing threat of certain illness and pseudo-certain-maybe death. Our vows/living wills to each other and Santa addressed our commitment to this tradition, regardless of potentially living in different states or countries, disliking the shit out of each other, and even death. We vowed never to include our future children or partners in these pictures, so sacred are these photos to our friendship and our very existence. After all, this is the thing we're most famous for. That's not saying much if anything at all, but it is what it is. We have a handful of people expressing their looking forward to this every year. Even if they're lying, that counts for something in my book. The book being my 5th grade diary, and the lock is broken.

So, we made it happen. Maybe not the way we envisioned, but who envisioned any of this, aside from Machiavelli and Nostradamus and Gertrude Stein and Peter Gabriel and Count Chocula?

We didn't want to take pictures six feet away from Santa. Where's the magic in that? But no mall in the country allowed proximity. So, we took to the black market and finally found a Santa who was willing to shirk the rules, all in the name of tradition. Happily, we three were forced to quarantine together in the North Pole for a fortnight, away from spouses, children, and pets, testing for Covid each and every day until the soft tissue areas around our nasopharynx had disintegrated and our tests screamed back "NEGATIVE!!" fourteen times in a row.

But do the masses know this? Do they know what we went through to get this, our 22nd Santa picture? No. All they can see through Zoom-fatigued eyes is irresponsibility, selfishness, and statistical death. Can't they just assume that we're being safe, without our having to publicly announce all the exhaustive details about our precautions? I guess this is why I keep my judgments to myself and ten of my closest friends. Because I don't want to be that dummy with the visual equivalent of a 2-year-old's reading comprehension, admonishing through a social media comment a virtual stranger for not adequately social distancing.

"Look closely," they said.

"It's photoshopped," they said.

Or maybe.. just maybe, it's you, not me.

We're BACK in person, and it's obvious, judging by the masks we're wearing (not a metaphor), who's living in a state where Covid and Santa are still real and who's now living in a state where masks are not mandated and thus missing this twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a fashion or moral statement upon a patch of cloth covering the mouth and nose.

We're barely visible! We could have had our assistants take our places for Santa pics this year, but that would have been untrue to the tradition, and we also don't have assistants, just kids and pets, and I hear it's against the law to use either for work purposes.

You can read a more in-depth thingy about our 2022 Santa picture last year, here. I was post-tripping on shrooms and mentally tripping on this Santa being the most conversational. Looking back, it was almost like one of those, "Blink twice if you're in danger," things, and... damn. Nadya and I missed out on our opportunity to save Santa. SOS = Save Our Santa!

...drum roll please, but not too loud, it's early somewhere, and a hangover is imminent!

2023!!! 25 YEARS OF SANTA PICTURES!!! Our silver anniversary à trois, pas ménage avec Santa!

For someone who's such a downer and who takes it as one of my life purposes to poke holes in all of the tires that are our "holidays" in this godforsaken country, I fuckin' love Christmas time, brother. The lights, the music, the cheer. It's perhaps the most acceptable time to either be open about drowning one's holiday sorrows, or to fake the funk and forget what's happening in the rest of the world and/or within our minds and hearts. Generally. This year, not as accessible, ignorance.

I think Nadya and I now roll up to Santa and his picture-taking elves with a mixture of initial embarrassment that very quickly turns into boss-bitchiness, internally guffawing at their ineptitude. As Nadya said to one of the elves, "We've been doing this for 25 years." Thank you, but no thanks, to the new "suggested" poses of whispering into Santa's ears our wishes for material goods and whatever other corny shit they have on tap. We're veterans at this game, and we demand respect! Be assured, we demanded it! We did not receive it. Santa was not in the mood, and if he wants to keep this job, he needs to get in the mood of faking cheer so we, too, can forget for one 3-minute period, that the state of international affairs is as sour and dour as his face.

"This is our 25th year of taking Santa pictures!" we chirped, expecting to be met with congratulations and champagne. Stone-faced, he replied, "I've been doing this for 417 years." This isn't a pissing contest, Santa. Way to remind us that expectations breed disappointment. Also, you got your employment duration wrong, but who's counting.

He asked us what we wanted for Christmas. We beamed, thinking for a brief shining moment that he did care, after all.

"A permanent cease-fire," I said. "For my girls to sleep in tomorrow," Nadya said.

Santa's eyes went dark as his voice lowered. "I'm not a magician."

In the end, after prodding from Santa to ask for something that could "fit in the sled," we settled for asking lamely for a pair of shoes and a laptop that would never come. Eventually, the magic wears off and the jolly red costume gets hung up somewhere in a North Polian closet, the Christmas trees thrown carelessly on the sidewalk.

There's always next year; there are always the years after that. But maybe this one isn't about what we always try to make it about.

In the only way I see fit to end this, on this year anyway,

the words of Cole Arthur Riley's "On Christmas" from Black Liturgies--

"Christmas is not a story of escapism. If you are someone who believes that God was born in a body today, then you should believe in dignity in the body. Then you should believe in challenging empire in protection of the dignity of every person and place.

This is our call today. An end to massacre and genocide. A reclamation of the most beautiful parts of the human soul."

as always, with love and thanks and wishes for PEACE,


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