Ho! Ho! Ho! Too early? No way. Not for this Santa Claus, a.k.a Eric Schmitt-Matzen, whose impressive Santa skills come in handy all year long.
Last year, Santa visited a terminally ill 5-year-old boy who could not wait for Christmas to come, because he knew he might not make it. So Santa brought Christmas to him early, right to his hospital bed. It was his dying wish.
The Ultimate Santa Claus
This Jackson, Tennessee Santa has been spreading Christmas joy to boys and girls, and adults, for quite some time now. Although he has visited sick kids at homes and in hospitals and everywhere in between, never in his life could he have predicted what one phone call would mean to him and a little boy.
“The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital,” Santa explained in an interview with WBIR. “She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.”
Answering the Call, Fulfilling a Calling
There was only one person in the world at that moment who could fulfill this final wish of a dying boy, and that person was Schmitt-Matzen.
“I told her, ‘Okay, just let me change into my outfit.’ She said, ‘There isn’t time for that. Your Santa suspenders are good enough. Come right now.'”
Making a Wish Come True
15 minutes later, Santa was at the hospital, where he met the little boy’s mother and several family members.
“She bought a toy from PAW Patrol (a television show on Nickelodeon) and wanted me to give it to him.”
Santa agreed. But first, he made a request for all who were present. “If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.”
So nobody came with him into the little boy’s room. Instead, they all watched, in tears, from a hallway window in the Intensive Care Unit.
‘Number One Elf’
“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,” described Santa. In the jolliest and most cheerful voice he could muster up, he approached the boy and said, “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!”
The boy looked up at him and replied, “I am?” Later, in re-telling the story, Santa became emotional and began to weep at the boy’s heartbreakingly innocent response. “I said, ‘Sure!'”
Santa gave the boy the present, and the boy, although excited, was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. He did manage to open it, however, and when he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and rested his head back down on his pillow.
“They say I’m going to die.”
The room was silent for a brief moment until the little boy looked up at Santa, and they locked eyes. “They say I’m going to die,” said the boy. “How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
“I said, can you do me a big favor? When you get there, you tell them you are Santa’s number one elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
“He said ‘They will?’ I said, ‘Sure!'”
Then the boy sat up a little and gave Santa a big hug. Then he asked one more question.
“He asked, ‘Santa, can you help me?'”
The Last Hug
Santa was left speechless and just wrapped his arms around the boy. “Before I could say anything, he died right there,” Santa said. “I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding onto him.“
The boys’ mother, who was watching everything, came running into the room yelling, “No, no, not yet!”
“I handed her son back and left as fast as I could,” said Santa. “I cried all the way home, I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.”
Time For a Change?
It occurred to him when he got home that maybe it was time for him to hang up his suit for good. “I’m just not cut out for this, I thought,” said the very emotional Santa. “But I mustered up the strength to work one more show.”
That was all it took to bring this award-winning Tennessee Santa to change his mind again. “When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold,” he said. “It made me realize the role I have to play. For them and for me.”
Honoring the Spirit of the Season
This heartbreaking tale is a true, verified story of one ordinary person who chose an extraordinarily challenging path, and who continues to choose that path.
All around us, there may be others who might need Christmas brought to them a little bit early for good reason. We can choose to emulate this incredible man and the little boy who embody the words that Charles Dicken’s wrote many years ago: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”