8 Santas Who Deserve a Serious Raise
This year, 60-year-old Santa Claus portrayer Eric Schmitt-Matzen helped one special little boy in the final moments of his life. After a nurse told him that there was a sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus, Schmitt-Matzen headed straight to the hospital and entered the intensive care unit. He sat down on the boy’s bed, asking, "Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas! Why, you’re my Number One elf!'" Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. He gave the boy a present. "He was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. When he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down," he said. The two shared a hug, and the little boy asked, "Santa, can you help me?" He wrapped his arms around him. "Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him," Schmitt-Matzen said.
Kyle Daniel lost his son Hayden to a congenital heart defect in 2014. He still wanted to give a picture of his son and Santa to his wife, Sasha, this Christmas, so, in 2015, he brought a framed photo of Hayden with him to the mall, where Caleb Ryan Sigmon was playing Santa. "A man walked in today holding something in his arms. 'I have a request,' he said, turning around this picture frame. He took a moment. 'My son passed away, last year.' He choked up and couldn't finish his sentence. The entire photo set was silent," Sigmon recounted in a Facebook post. "I said, 'Absolutely.' Without anyone saying anything, he handed me the frame and I placed it on my knee." After the photo, Sigmon and his team gave Daniel a hug and gifted the grieving father with the photo package for free. Sigmon said he shared the story to remind people that the holidays can often be difficult for some families: "Pray for the brokenhearted. Smile at people. Just be kind. Love one another."
All 5-year-old Darian Chapa – who has been battling a rare form of cancer since he was 18 months old, and thus can rarely leave the house – wanted for Christmas last year was to meet Santa. His mother, Vanessa, took to Facebook to ask for help making her son's dream come true – and the Internet delivered. After the post went viral, the local police helped Santa make a house call, while other members of the community brought presents, a Christmas tree and decorations to help the family celebrate the holiday. "It's been overwhelming," Vanessa told PEOPLE. "All I wanted was a Santa for my little boy. We got so much more. We're hoping we get to have Darian for many more Christmases, but this one will definitely be more special to him."
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
Last year, a mall Santa from the Caring Santa program, which offers special Santas at a quiet time for families with children with autism, got on the floor with a young boy who was nervous about taking a picture. "Brayden was shy and inched his way over slowly, and then Santa just slowly gets out of his seat and gets on the ground and starts playing with the toys that my son bought," the boy's mom told PEOPLE. "Oh my gosh, to be able to do something that other families do ... normally a lot of things are harder for us as a family, and we got to do the same tradition as everyone else."
An 8-year-old boy with autism was anxious and excited to meet Santa – and that's when he was comforted by the man himself during a Dec. 2015 visit. "Santa asked L if it bothered him having autism? L said yes, sometimes. Then Santa told him it shouldn't. It shouldn't bother him to be who he is," the boy's mom wrote in a Facebook post about the sweet encounter. "Santa told L to not worry and that he has been a very good boy being who he is."
When another little boy got sleepy on Santa's lap, Santa joined in and took a snooze as well. "The outcome was the cutest thing I've ever seen," the 6-month-old boy's dad said on Facebook.
In 2014, a mysterious Santa gained notoriety for handing coffee shop workers "MERRY CHRISTMAS" envelopes with $100 bills inside.
Two brothers (and avid Reddit users) have been visiting Santa together every year for the past 35 years, proving that you can never, ever outgrow Santa's magic. (And we give all 35 of those Santas some serious props for their sturdy laps.)