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Sign Language Santa Brings Smiles to Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Local Kids

“What did you just say to him?” I asked the man using sign language to communicate to his son.

“I told him to go ahead and tell Santa what he wants for Christmas,” the man smiled. “He loves Santa,” said the man, who asked to not be identified. “But, this is the first time he’ll be able to tell Santa what he wants.”

When it was his son’s turn to sit on the big man’s lap, the man looked on proudly as the child, armed with a Christmas list, marched towards Santa and proceeded to sign to Santa exactly what he wanted for Christmas. Santa signed back. The child smiled. Big hugs were exchanged.

For children all across America, and indeed, around the world, it is a much anticipated ritual – the annual trek to the mall to take a picture with Santa, and to tell Santa what they’d like to see under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. But for deaf or hard-of-hearing children, “telling” Santa what they want for Christmas has not always been possible. Mall Santas do not typically communicate in sign language.

That’s why a private event called “Signing Santa Day,” held at MacArthur Center Mall in Norfolk, VA on December 6 was so special to dozens of deaf or hard-of-hearing children. For the first time, many of these children were able to communicate with Santa using sign language, and Santa was able to communicate back!

Photo by Michael Smid

Photo by Michael Smid

“Signing Santa Day” was held by MacArthur Center in partnership with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment to promote the DVD and Blu-ray™ debut of the film ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT. The movie features sign-language interpretation – a first for a feature film – by deaf actors Sean Berdy, star of ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” and stage and film actress Amber Zion.

Event emcee, Vanessa Coria, WVEC TV-13. Photo by Michael Smid

As part of the promotion, a ‘Signing Santa’ set up shop at the Ice Palace – a special 30-foot ice dome with falling snow, a light show, and the prehistoric herd from the film – to collect the children’s Christmas lists, and to take a photo with each child.

The Ice Palace. Photo by Michael Smid

Deaf and hard-of-hearing children mesmerized by event performances. Photo by Michael Smid

And because no Christmas event would be complete without Christmas songs and carols, the children were entertained with Christmas favorites like Jingle Bells, Feliz Navidad, and Joy to the World by the “Signing Choraliers” of Corporate Landing Elementary School in Virginia Beach. (See video)

According to Bobbie Bullock-Smith, the Signing Choraliers’ sign director, the group, ranging in age from 9 – 11 years old practiced for about a month before the MacArthur performance.

Bobbie Bullock-Smith prepares the Signing Choraliers for performance. Photo by Michael Smid

The Signing Choraliers of Corporate Landing Elementary School. Photo by Michael Smid

“They are as excited to be here as the other children,” Bullock-Smith said. “They can’t wait to take a picture with Santa.”

Click here to see more pictures from MacArthur Center’s “Signing Santa Day.”

Click here to see highlights video produced by Hampton Roads Social.


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