Tattoo Santa

Hazlee Kelso, 5, visits with Santa Claus this past Sunday at Electric Eye Tattoo Parlor in Dickson. SEAN BARRY

For anyone who doubted it, Santa Claus is real.

Spend some time in his Electric Eye Tattoo Parlor in Dickson, watching the babies cradled in his arms and toddlers on his knee in a never-ending parade of warmth and cuteness.

Watch parents donate money that goes toward charity. Admire the shop’s Christmas decorations that put the display at the New York City Macy’s store to shame.

Add it all up and it’s impossible not to believe. If Santa Claus is about the magic of Christmas and the true spirit of the holiday, then all that’s missing from plain view at the 880 Highway 70 tattoo business is a reindeer-drawn sleigh capable of soaring worldwide through the night sky.

And there’s probably that exact rig parked behind the tattoo shop. Maybe it’s just too soon to let kids see the toy bounty that the elves are out there loading right now.

To blend in with the community, Santa goes by “Dutch Bryant, tattoo artist,” most of the year. But at Christmastime, the parlor turns into a southern outpost of Santa’s North Pole headquarters, and scores of families line up to visit the famous figure at certain hours that are advertised.

It’s a photo opportunity, as Mrs. Claus — aka “Megan Bryant” — clicks away with a red Nikon. The photos capture precious memories, but what’s most special is the overall experience — the unscripted interaction between the kids and Santa, the spontaneous moments.

People are asked to make a donation, whatever they can, and all the money goes to charity. This year’s proceeds will go to support The Quest Center, which provides musical opportunities for kids in the community.

For years, Santa has been brightening Christmas for Dickson County residents in this fashion, bringing smiles to faces and money for good causes.

He has a deep, warm laugh that one would expect from Santa, though it sounds far from a contrived “ho-ho-ho.” He listens to kids intently, taking his cues from them as to what he should say, and how he can best make them feel welcome and comfortable.

How are you, buddy?” Santa greeted one child this past Sunday. “Come on over. What would you like for Christmas this year?”

“It’s so good to see you!” Santa said to another.

Children react in different ways when they see Santa. They are delighted, mesmerized, bashful — or frightened to encounter such a revered figure. A few cry, though usually a little encouragement from Santa, Mommy, Daddy or all three is enough to soothe their nerves, and they get brave enough to pose for the camera.

Santa doesn’t just host visitors at his tattoo shop. He goes to schools, too, and makes in-home visits to children who can’t leave the house for medical reasons.

Santa is always ready to make someone’s day, because Christmas is about so much more than a new video game, toy truck or dollhouse. Christmas is about warmth and compassion, and that’s exactly what you get with Santa because, well, because he’s Santa.

Just as Santa treats each child as unique and special, so too does he welcome all of God’s creatures.

Dogs are allowed to visit Santa at the tattoo shop. Santa hopes the dogs don’t pee on him, but if they do he laughs it off.

Dogs are the animals Santa is most likely to encounter. However, Santa and Mrs. Claus have seen some notable exceptions.

Last Sunday, they recalled, animal visits over the years have included a fox and a goat. 

As Santa sat back and reflected on those unusual visits, he said something that proved he’s real. Not that more proof was necessary, but he said: “I wonder if someone will come by with a reindeer.”

To help pull the sleigh out back, no doubt.

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