Like every year, I'm going to spend four hours this Sunday dressed in a red velvet suit and sweating like a Butterball turkey while having my picture taken with hundreds of jittery dogs and cats -- and one alarmingly big snake.
For the seventh straight year, instead of relaxing on my couch watching the Canadian Football League playoffs on my big-screen TV, I'll be portraying Santa Claus at the first of two Pet Pics with Santa Paws fundraisers in support of the Winnipeg Humane Society.
On Tuesday, I learned Santa would be getting up close and personal with a snake the size of a fire hose this Sunday when I called my photographer buddy, Frank Adam of Adam York Photography, to discuss our festive strategy.
That's when Frank, who has been donating his photographic services to the humane society for the past 19 years, shared a story that sent cold shivers slithering up Santa's spine.
It seems a little over a month ago, Frank popped into a local photofinishing lab. "One of the lab staff asked about Pet Pics and whether we'd ever had a snake before," Frank explained. "I told her yes.
"So she said: 'Oh, that's great! I'd like to come and get a picture of my boa constrictor with Santa.' I said: 'We look forward to seeing you there.' "
When I regained the ability to speak, I reminded Frank that Santa had been a very brave elf when, in 2010, a lovely young woman brought her metre-long python, Miss Mae, for a visit to Santa's Village. At the time, S-S-S-Santa s-s-s-s-urvived by pretending ("Ho ho NO!") he was frozen in terror.
Frank paused to savour the memory. "But this snake is a big one -- she told me it's at least six feet long," he said.
"Six feet long? That's great!" I grunted. "Sounds like Santa's going to have a very special visitor."
"Yes," Frank replied, chortling, "and possibly a very special hug."
Oddly, this did nothing to settle Santa's rattled nerves. "She showed me a picture of it," is what Frank said next. "If my memory serves me correctly, it's kind of yellow and brown with really large teeth."
"How large is really large?" I asked.
Frank did the math in his head. "The teeth have to be at least four inches," he finally said, before adding: "Ha ha. I'm just kidding about the teeth, Santa."
Before I could show my appreciation for his sense of humour, Frank had more news to soothe Santa. "She promised she'll feed the snake before she brings him in, so he won't be looking for a meal," my friend assured me.
The truth is, Frank is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, but he is also a photographer, which means he is NEVER satisfied until he gets just the right pose. For instance, if a gigantic snake were coiled around Santa's neck, Frank would refuse to take the picture until (a) he had adjusted the lighting, and (b) the snake was wearing the appropriate festive expression and Santa's face was the perfect shade of blue.
When I shared these concerns, Frank calmly replied: "Don't worry -- I'll have my widest lens with me on Sunday. It sounds like fun. When someone brings something different in, it's nice because it's something different. It livens things up, especially if Santa doesn't like snakes."
After Frank shared a few helpful tips -- "Don't make any sudden movements; and no rodent sounds" -- I called Aileen White, the humane society's very kind director of public affairs, to see if she had any advice for Santa.
"Did you know someone is bringing a snake to see Santa this Sunday?" is what I immediately asked.
Aileen chuckled warmly. "Yes, but you've been visited by a snake before," she said.
Which is when I pointed out that, if we can believe our friendly photographer Frank, this particular snake is more along the lines of an oil pipeline with scales.
"Holy Dinah!" Aileen gasped, and, no, I do not make up these quotes. "That's big. When Frank said a big snake, I didn't realize it was wrap-around-your-body size. I'm glad I'm not Santa."
In a sincere effort to cheer me up, Aileen noted Pet Pics is important because all the proceeds go to help the humane society, which takes in more than 8,500 animals every year.
Finally, out of concern for Santa's safety, she said: "You'll have to go online to find out how to hold a boa constrictor."
"I already know how to hold a boa constrictor," I advised her.
"How?" she asked.
"Very very carefully," Santa sniffed.