In the Christmas season, one symbolic element that just can’t be taken away is the presence of the North American and European world’s most famous gift-giver. Patterned after a Christian saint, known by various titles and nicknames, and popularized in image as a stout and jolly old man with a bushy beard, red winter-clothes and a sack of toys for children, Santa Claus is the embodiment of fun Christmas. He’s so ubiquitous at this time of the year, commercial establishments that could afford it would have a Santa on a chair for kids to sit on, to tell their wishes and have a nice photo-op. This story is about one of these Santa performers, told on USA Today by way of the Knoxville News Sentinel. I recommend you have tissues handy because it’s as emotional as it is sweet.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen is a 60-year- old mechanical engineer from Jacksboro, but he has another line of work, one that may have been rooted in his birthday of December 6 – Saint Nicholas’ feast day. Despite a stint with the Army Rangers in his prime, it’s as if becoming a Santa Claus performer was his true calling. He certainly looks the part with his 310-pound body and naturally grown (if bleached white) beard. The most important and heart-tugging act of his career took place several weeks ago when he received a call to appear as Santa at the hospital bedside of a very sick 5-year- old boy who had been told that he may not live past this Christmas. With little time to put on his full costume, Schmitt-Mitzen headed for the hospital in his decorated Santa suspenders and no coat.
Once he arrived the boy’s mother gave him a toy to present as a gift. After asking everyone else to stand outside the room, Schmitt-Mitzen went to the boy’s bedside and spoke with him while handing over the toy. The boy asked where he will go when he died, and Schmitt-MItzen replied (as Santa) that the place the boy will go would let him in without a doubt once he introduced himself as “Santa’s Number One Elf”. It was an answer that made the boy smile while hugging him, asking if “Santa” might be able to help with another thing. Whatever that request will never be known; the boy died that instant in Santa Schmitt-Mitzen’s arms.
After leaving the boy’s family to their grief, Schmitt-Mitzen returned home and, in his own words, was “a basket case for three days”. He even considered retiring from playing Santa during Christmas, but appearing in another mall show later on made Schmitt-Mitzen appreciate how much power the image of Santa Claus has in giving joy to children no matter what. He continues to perform.
Photo Credit to http://www.wbir.com/