FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA— Around this time of year, the atmosphere at America’s shopping malls is joyful and festive. Holiday tunes play over the sound system, lights twinkle in store windows and children line up with their parents, waiting for their turn to meet Santa Claus.
“He’s such an icon of the holidays," said Ed Cassidy, marketing and sponsorship director at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia. "It’s almost a tradition at malls throughout the country that there is a Santa to visit [and to] have your photos taken with Santa.”
The visit also gives children a chance to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. Deaf children, however, can’t talk to Santa, or hear him, unless they’re visiting the Santa at Fair Oaks Mall.
He knows American Sign Language (ASL), so he can communicate with them. Cassidy says the Signing Santa first came here last year.
“It was so popular here at Fair Oaks Mall, we decided to do it once more again this year and make it our new sort of annual tradition,” he said.
Susi Brown is a mother of five who was visiting the mall with her nine-month-old daughter, Felicity.
“She failed the hearing test at the hospital," she said."So we knew right away.”
Brown says the Signing Santa gives deaf children, like her daughter, the same chance other youngsters have to participate and enjoy holiday customs.
“I think it’s absolutely wonderful that we have public events where she can be included with the other [children] because her brother and sisters are hearing and it's always a challenge for me to find things that they can all do together," Brown said. "So when I heard there was a Signing Santa, we had to go because it was so special for her.”
Brown and her other four children are starting to learn American Sign Language so they can communicate with little Felicity.
Learning ASL is also important to Nicole Warman, a deaf mother of two hearing boys, was delighted when she learned about this event.
“I saw it on Facebook, so I shared the information about this event with all of my friends,” said Warman through a sign language interpreter.
Taking her children to meet Signing Santa, she says, is a chance to show them theirs is not the only family that communicates with their fingers.
The couple portraying Santa and his helper are husband and wife. When they're not in costume for Christmas, they're both teachers who work with deaf and hard-of-hearing children.
“The feedback has been tremendous this year much more than last because last year was the first year and not that many people knew about it,” Santa Claus said.
“The thing that I love the most is that they come and talk with Santa directly,” said his elf.
It is said that a deaf child responds to visual stimuli while a hearing child responds to words and sounds. But both enjoy the holidays and become excited when they meet Santa.