GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan family is celebrating a decades long tradition of taking a photo with Old Saint Nick. 

For the last 50 years, the Long family has gathered before Christmas to take a picture on Santa’s Lap. On Monday, they headed to Woodland mall in matching shirts that read “Santa’s favorite family” to continue the tradition.

“There came a time when my mom found out we didn’t want to sit on Santa’s lap anymore so then her and my dad joined in the picture and it made it more like a family picture and not just you sitting on Santa’s lap. So I think that was the encouragement that we needed,” said Becky Volpe as she stood next to her family. 

Over the years, Volpe says they’ve added members to their family following marriages, births and the addition of dogs. They say they also lost some family members throughout the years, including their mother who started the tradition. 

“The first year our mom wasn’t in it, we really talked about ending the tradition with her and we just decided not to so now I don’t think we’re ever going to get to end it,” said Katie Jewell of her mother. 

To celebrate making it to 50 years, the Longs are paying it forward. This year they’re making a $500 donation to help families in need start a photo taking tradition of their own.

“I’ve been awful blessed with an awesome family and friends, so just to pass it on,” said David Long Sr. of the donation.

After hearing about the donation, Woodland Mall decided to match the donation. They’re now working with local nonprofits to determine which families in need will get the money to have their photos taken for free. 

“It just warmed my heart and that’s what the season is all about: giving back,” said Alyson Presser, the marketing manager at Woodland Mall. “Paying it forward at Woodland Mall that’s something that we’re really excited about it in this 2021 year and I’m hoping that we can do it again next year.”

The Long family says they hope the photo opportunity will bring joy to another family like it has for them for half a century. 

“I think if you look at the last couple of years and the uncertainties of the time and the hardship and the losses that people went through. Like for us this year, we lost our grandpa, my mom’s dad,” said Volpe. “We won’t get to celebrate with him and that’s hard for us but we try to find special moments like this that we can find joy. This is a tradition that we’ve kept now for 50 years and it’ll bring us joy to look back and see that we continued on even though those hardships happened.”

Families in West Michigan can take Santa Claus photos at Woodland Mall until Dec. 24. People can also grab a photo with their pet on Mondays until Dec. 20. More information can be found on the Woodland Mall website.