One of the most heartwarming Christmas traditions is taking your kids to meet Santa Claus. Watching their eyes widen with wonder as they meet the big man himself and read their Christmas wishes is a reminder of childhood innocence and what Christmas is all about.
But one family didn’t have to go to a mall and wait in line to meet Santa—they just ran into him on the grocery aisle.
In December 2015, Robert Riley was at the Walmart in Hurricane, West Virginia with his two daughters. They were just doing some ordinary Christmas shopping, but it unexpectedly led to one unforgettable memory.
The youngest daughter, Sophie Jo Riley, was three years old at the time. And at that age, she was able to spot something in the aisles of that store that no one else could.
Her other family members noticed her peeking around the store, seemingly trying to get a look at someone.
“She was just sneaking around the aisle, had her back against the toys,” her older sister Miya Lupashunski told WSAZ.
“We were behind her, and she’d put her finger up to her lips and go ‘Shh! It’s Santa!'”
They saw she was talking about a fellow customer—who did undeniably resemble Santa Claus, with his big white beard and red sweatshirt. He didn’t have the full suit and hat, but he was presumably trying to keep a low-profile while he got some holiday shopping done.
Sophie was confident that this was the real Santa picking up a few items at her local Walmart—so her dad suggested she should go over and say hello.
Actually, this wasn’t the real, official Santa—it was a man named Roger Larck.
“Santa?” he says, as Sophie approached him. “I’ve been called worse.”
But seeing the Christmas wonder in her eyes, he kept up the act—and based on his surprisingly smooth, spur-of-the-moment performance, you’d swear he was the real Santa.
Sophie excitedly shows off her nails, and Santa asks if she’s put her Christmas tree up yet. She excitedly replies that she has.
She also gives him a heads-up that she’ll be leaving out cookies for him—but when he asks if they’re all for him, she tells him he can have one and share the rest with the reindeer—although she notes that reindeer usually eat grass instead.
“They do, but up in the North Pole, grass is pretty hard to come by,” Santa quips.
This makes Sophie turn back to her family—saying something along the lines of “I told you it was Santa Claus!”
Her family had no arguments there.
“If there really was a Santa Claus, and now I question it,” Sophie’s mother Erika Riley told WSAZ.
“I think maybe there really is. That’s exactly how I picture him to be.”
The whole encounter was captured on video by Sophie’s sister… and when her dad posted it on Facebook, it became a viral hit with over a million views:
Sophie found Santa at Walmart this evening. She saw him then kept sneaking up on him. She asked him if he was Santa at first and if you turn up the volume you can hear the rest. So cute and innocent. I love this!!Jukin Media Verified (Original)* For licensing / permission to use: Contact – licensing(at)jukinmediadotcom
Posted by Robert Riley on Wednesday, December 9, 2015
When asked about the video’s success, Robert said he felt the video showed people the true holiday spirit:
“It’s real, it’s pure,” he told WSAZ. “It’s innocence. It’s Christmas.”
While it’s been a hit online, Robert says he talked with Santa/Roger Larck and they agreed to donate all the profits from the video to a local charity.
“We don’t want to profit whatsoever from it.”
They also spoke with Larck, who said that as the grandfather of four boys, he was happy to talk to a young girl for once.
‘I’m tickled I’ve been a part of something that other people have enjoyed,” Larck told WSAZ. “It was just me having a conversation with a little girl. It melted my heart when it happened.”
He also says that it wasn’t the first time he’s been mistaken for Santa—but he’s always happen to play the part when the moment calls for it.
“Just carrying on a little well-placed ‘ho ho ho’ helps some parents,” he explained.
Surprisingly, he’s never considered playing Santa professionally—he says there are enough people doing that already—but he was willing to reprise the role one more time.
He surprised Sophie again a week before Christmas:
While Sophie seemed a bit camera-shy on the newscast, she opened up when sat on Santa’s lap and told him what she wanted for Christmas.
And Larck couldn’t resist the chance to play Santa one more time, especially after their first encounter went so magically.
“I’m tickled I’ve been a part of something that other people have enjoyed,” Larck told WSAZ. “It was just me having a conversation with a little girl.”