LOWELL, Mass. — For many kids, sitting on the lap of a red-clad, bearded stranger is nothing short of, well, terrifying.
Not so for two Massachusetts brothers, who've turned annual Santa visits into a project of epic proportions. (Spoiler alert: the project may involve 34 years of photos with the big man, and it's a collection that won't be complete anytime soon.)
It all began back in 1980, when Mike Gray had his first introduction to St. Nick himself. Younger brother Martin first showed up on Santa's other knee four years later. The boys made the pilgrimage each year with their mother, and continued the tradition long after they'd clearly outgrown Santa's lap.
What, you might ask, could motivate two teenage boys to wait in line for a candy cane and snapshot with the North Pole's jolliest elf? The inspiration was simple: mom.
"We didn't mind feeling a little silly because we knew how much it meant to her," Martin Gray told TODAY Moms. "Then at a certain point, you simply have to keep the streak going."
And my how they've kept it going. Though most Santas they've met have been supportive of their endeavor, Gray said others put their foot down when it came to the lap sitting — starting in the 90s, the photos feature the boys nestled on Santa's armrests instead, "per Santa's request."
It's been more than three decades since that first photograph, and the Gray brothers have no intention of stopping their audience with Santa anytime soon. Each year their mother adds a new photo to the now-legendary album that houses all 34 pieces of Christmas magic.
The album makes for an incomparable conversation piece during the holidays, when it's pulled out of storage and placed in a prominent spot in their mother's home for all to peruse. The brothers recently posted the entire series online for the world to enjoy.
The brothers say the best thing to come out of their tradition — aside from excellent documentation of bad haircuts, braces, acne and other evidence of awkward growing pains — is the way it's brought them together every year.
"No matter how busy we are, we simply have to carve some time out for this tradition," Gray told TODAY Moms. "I guess that's the point of traditions like these: an excuse to stay close to family and friends."