Sitting on Santa’s knee is a time-honored tradition, but it’s one that kids tend to grow out of pretty early on. So the commitment to the Christmas custom shown by these two brothers is not only hilariously adorable, but also an awesome snapshot of how their lives have changed over 34 years. What’s more, the difference between 1980 and 2013 – and the journey in between – is truly remarkable.
The brothers in question are Martin and Michael Gray. And between them, they’ve been keeping one of Christmas’ oldest rituals alive for years. It all started in 1980 when older brother Michael first posed for a photo with Santa Claus himself. Or, at least, a loose department store approximation of the man.
The act of sitting on Santa’s lap has been practiced for even longer than that, though. In fact, it’s a tradition that dates back decades. And certainly there are photos apparently old enough to suggest so.
Of course, writing letters to Santa was another widely used method of passing on gift wish lists – one no doubt still employed by many kids today. But the only way for children to tell Santa in person what they want for Christmas is to pay him a visit, in department stores like Macy’s. Here Santa can then pass on the details of the desired gifts directly to the parents. Conveniently, moreover, he can also tip them off as to the area of the store in which to buy them.
Back in the ’80s, meanwhile, there was nothing really untoward about having your kids sit in the lap of a stranger. In recent years, however, the practice has been called into question by many – including parents.
By 1984, though, Michael no longer had to sit on his own with Saint Nick. Indeed, he was joined by his younger brother, Martin, who would go on to sit by his sibling’s side with Santa for many years to come.
In fact, every year from then on, the Gray family’s festive celebrations involved the customary photo with Father Christmas. Of course, that’s not to say that the kids were always happy about it. Martin looked absolutely distressed on his second outing in 1985, for instance.
Eventually, however, the kids began to enjoy the tradition more and more as they grew up. By 1988, for example, both seemed absolutely delighted to be in the presence of Santa Claus himself. They were no doubt eager to tell him about all the awesome toys they hoped to find under the tree on December 25.
Obviously, fashions changed over the years. Wars were also fought, presidents were elected and laws were passed. But whatever was happening in the world, the Grays made sure to take time to honor their festive ritual.
And normally most kids would grow out of the habit by the age of eight or nine. By that point, they’ve either stopped believing in Santa Claus or are simply too embarrassed by the prospect. But Martin and Michael just kept going.
And they haven’t just done it for the giggles, either. Indeed, in 2013 Martin told The Huffington Post that it’s actually all for their mom. “We have an amazing mother and we [do] it for her truly without hesitation… to show [her] how much she means to us,” he explained. “If you have a chance to do something sweet for your mom, it shouldn’t matter if there is a bit of embarrassment involved.”
And while continuing the custom probably was pretty embarrassing for the brothers during those awkward teenage years, judging by the smiles in this photo, they didn’t seem too affected by it. In fact, they eventually seemed to start getting really into it.
What’s more, the photos not only made for an awesome annual tradition but also an enthralling snapshot of the brothers’ lives. It’s amazing to see, for instance, how both of them grew up from babies and kids into teenagers and, finally, adults. One Reddit user even created GIFs cycling through each of Martin and Michael’s portraits.
And while the Santa Claus in question may have changed over the years, the boys’ unwavering commitment to making their mom happy never did. Plenty of families have Christmas traditions – whether it’s watching a Yuletide movie, playing a favorite game or just eating a specific meal – but none are quite as cool as this one.
It’s also a tradition that few kids will have the chance to start nowadays. Indeed, there have recently been calls to do away with the practice entirely. In 2014, for example, a child protection activist called for extra regulation where shopping mall and department stores were concerned. The activist demanded that kids should stand alongside Santa rather than rest on his lap.
These calls were not met with overwhelming support, however. One Santa in Australia told the Daily Mail that children are never forced to sit on his lap, saying, “From my own personal experience, what we’re having is a tradition that parents have taken from their own childhood that they want their kids to have. Parents get the children to stand next to me or try to put them on my knee. Sometimes they cry and are quickly taken off.”
Thankfully for Martin and Michael, they’re now both fully grown adults who have complete freedom to do as they wish. And they’re not afraid to dress up for the occasion, either. In 2010, for instance, they donned matching Christmas sweaters for their annual photo.
And by 2011, a massive 31 years after Michael’s first photo was taken, the custom finally spanned more than one generation. At some point in the year before, the oldest Gray brother brought a son into the world – and he evidently couldn’t wait to share his favorite festive tradition with his offspring.
And not even being on vacation could get in the way of the brothers finding a shopping mall Santa to pose with, if their choice of outfits in 2012 are anything to go by. By now, Michael’s son looks to be enjoying the activity as much as his dad and uncle, too.
But the biggest difference of all arrived in 2013, however, as both brothers introduced new additions to their families. The group photo – the 34th – is an awesome milestone for the entire Gray family. And it surely won’t have been the last, as that year Martin told Mashable, “We hope to keep the tradition going indefinitely. I imagine it shouldn’t be too difficult until our children become teens and are embarrassed by the whole thing.”