This won't end well.
Granted, that's a realistic-looking Santa Claus -- if a mythical figure who whips around the world leaving presents for people who accept Jesus Christ as their savior can look realistic -- but that just makes the situation even stickier. That girl trusts her parents. She has faith in authority. She thinks her dad is the strongest man in the world and her mom never smoked pot. She believes Grandparents Day is a real holiday, George W. Bush invaded Iraq because bin Laden was there and Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996 because of sheer heart, determination and a consistent weight-lifting regimen. She knows she'll retire at 65 and the same dog her dad brought back from the pound last month will still be sleeping at the foot of her bed when she cashes that final paycheck.
Kid, you sure looked cute in that picture. How old are you now? Six? Six-and-a-half? A little bit of wool has fallen off your eyelids in the last two years, hasn't it?
I know you had a funny feeling back then, right after you cooed in that guy's ear telling him you wanted a Hannah Montana backpack and he winked at you and you squealed and your mom and aunt both yelled, "Look over here!" at the same time and you looked at your aunt's camera first but your mom took a picture too so you ended up smiling and looking into the distance.
Something was off. You just couldn't pinpoint it. So, do you want to know what it was? Do you really want to know what bothered you? Because once you take the red pill there's no going back.
You should sit down for this (lolz). Your parents lied to you. Your teachers lied to you, too. The bulk of Western civilization believes it is easier to deliberately fabricate loads of crap until you're eight-years-old and you find out there's no stork from a sixth-grader on the school bus than to treat you with honesty and respect. I'm sorry it sounds like a Spy Kids plot.
It is tough. Believe me. We've all experienced this. But take solace in your own instincts because you knew there was something weird about 5 o'clock shadow beneath a beard and that Santa must have better things to do than hang out at the King of Prussia Mall on a Tuesday afternoon and that human-trafficking awareness groups would probably raise hell about enslaving generations of nasally little men. Elves look like Orlando Bloom anyway. Not Mickey from Seinfeld.
Mazel Tov, parent. You have successfully sewed the seeds of cynicism in your child. You tricked your son into believing Santa was real and he totally fell for it hook, line and sinker! But now he knows.
"So what else is a lie?" he'll wonder. "Obviously the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the WWE. Of course 'States' Rights' is just dog-whistle code for 'deprive the urban poor (see: black people) of opportunities.' But there must be more!"
And so the truth-seeking begins. And when you try to stifle it, it only grows stronger until...
"Wait, just by praying I can make anything I want happen?"
"Wait, how did God create the entire universe in 6 days?"
"Wait, Jesus suffered, died and was buried and on the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the scriptures and his kingdom will have no end!?"
That is exactly the line of thought about 76% of Americans hope to avoid, though they unknowingly initiated it the moment they plopped their nervous toddler on the lap of some guy who just got laid off from AT&T.
Pros: Santa's Lap: Perfect for the family who appreciates instant gratification. Wouldya look at how happy he is right now! I don't even care that his older cousin will deliver some spirit-crushing news in a year! I value pessimism!
Creates the doubt that spawned Punk Music and any other anti-establishment movement. Sid Vicious' mom definitely made him sit on Santa's lap at some local firehouse brunch.
Seasonal jobs for the struggling 'fat, white, unemployed men ages 40-75' demographic.
Cons: Middle-aged men who invite kids to sit on their laps and whisper in their ears? Criticizing this would be cliche.
Jehovah's Witnesses will laugh derisively as they imagine you burning in hell.
Found out it was an elaborate hoax? Goodbye, idealism. We had a good six-year run.
This unlikely scenario:
A wonderful photo opportunity will lead to a lifetime of mistrust of authority. While this wariness is vital for checking power, will it completely displace idealism? In addition, remember the slippery slope from Santa's Lap to the page's of Richard Dawkin's next book.
Stability - 4/5 The soft meaty thighs of a former Wal-Mart greeter.
Cool Factor - 0/5 Why did my mom let me wear a mullet and saddle shoes!?
Difficulty - 1/5 Save face by not crying.
Perilousness - 3/5 Babies can't protect their own soft spots.
Added bonus - 4/5 Initially, discovering the lie will hurt, but later in life you will see past your local congressman's shit-eating grin, consider laundry detergent commercials with skepticism or even topple an oppressive dictatorship.
Overall rating - A disconcerting 12/25 for one of our society's strangest rituals.