During my university years in the early 1990s, I
worked part time
with kids at a neighborhood YMCA. The downtown location offered
exercise classes and the like, but our little Y focused mainly on child
care. Each year, we hosted a Christmas party for the community.
Most of the people working there were women, so we had to search for
a male volunteer to play Santa Claus. We didn't have many choices. John
was a tall, twentyish man who was much too skinny to be Santa Claus. No
amount of stuffing could possibly make him look plump and jolly. He
was, however, available.
On the day of the party, John put on his costume and waited for the
children. Although anyone was welcome, the majority of the children who
attended the party came from our day care, preschool and after-school
programs. They ranged in age from toddlers to 11-year-olds.
Many of the children, who knew John because he also worked at the Y,
said "It's just you, John." If they didn't know him, they said "You're
too skinny to be Santa." We were a little disappointed, but everyone
seemed to be having a good time, so it didn't really matter.
Then, a lovely little girl of about 9 years old entered the room.
She was dressed beautifully to see Santa and seemed a little shy. Her
mother brought her up to our Santa. "She's deaf," the mother explained.
"If she could just sit on your lap and have her picture taken, she
would be happy." John the skinny Santa smiled at the little girl, and
she sat on his lap.
Then something unexpected happened. Skinny Santa began rapidly
signing to her. The little girl beamed and answered him quickly with
her hands. Their conversation lasted quite a while. When I glanced at
the mother, I saw that she was crying. In fact, I don't think there was
a dry eye in the room. Santa Claus really was there.
There was so much we didn't know about what was happening. This girl
had been a regular visitor to our Y before she had lost her hearing
from meningitis, but that was before many of us came to work there. She
had never met John before, and few of us were aware he knew how to sign
-- so it all added up to a magical surprise.
I never said anything to John about this wonderful moment when it
happened 10 years ago. But if he's reading this, I want to thank him
for giving me, and everyone else who witnessed it, the best Christmas