Spending time with family is what the season's all about, Santa says
The months leading up to Christmas are a very busy time of year in the North Pole -- Santa doesn’t have much downtime to visit his fans.
But he has been known to make exceptions for Alaskans on his nice list. His unmistakable wintry white beard and rosy cheeks were spotted at the Reindeer Farm in Butte, Alaska, on Thanksgiving weekend.
Jingling bells filled the late autumn air, accenting the voices of two young sisters, Ryla and Teagan Dixon, as they caroled the Christmas classic “Santa Claus is coming to town.”
In between snacking on peoples’ scarves and sweaters, George the reindeer nuzzled noses with giggling children, his dopey eyes brimming with sweet satisfaction.
“Oh! He’s going to eat your hat!” Santa warned.
When asked why he chose Butte, Alaska, as a brief getaway over Thanksgiving weekend, Santa prefaced his answer with a happy “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
"I come out here with the reindeer and my elves and we all try to spread some cheer," the big man said, peering over his round, gold-rimmed spectacles. “I just love seeing all of these families together with all their smiling faces – because that’s what the season is all about.”
Despite a panorama of snow-peaked mountains bathed in a sunny caress, it was a bittersweet day for some of the families who came to take photos with Santa.
The Zavetters were celebrating Christmas early, the day before Jaired Zavetter shipped off on his fourth deployment with the United States Air Force. When young Madelynn Zavetter sat on Santa’s lap, she whispered in his ear that all she wanted for Christmas was “… for her dad to come home from Korea.”
“I’ve been away for Christmas once before, but we didn’t have any kids then,” Jaired said, holding his infant boy Carson, who’s mouth happened to be covered in sticky candy-cane slobber. “Now we have three. It's tough for all of us."
Santa fields many letters from children around the world asking for toys beneath their Christmas tree – it’s an entirely different job when a daughter sits on his lap and asks him to heal her father’s terminal cancer.
“I know, it’s been very hard, huh?” Santa said, patting the young girl’s folded hands. “But you guys are going to have a great Christmas, okay? No matter what, it’s going to be okay.”
Robert Ramos watched lovingly as Santa hugged his daughter, knowing that what she asked of the big man might be beyond the power of Christmas miracles.
"I'm now stage four renal cell carcinoma -- kidney cancer,” Ramos said. “So, I feel like the more we can capture our family's time together, and create memories, that's what we're focusing on right now.
"Creating memories while I still can, and enjoying time with our family ... And making sure that our kids know that they're loved," he finished.
Ramos’ eyes could not hide the pride and joy he felt with his arms around his family, smiling for what may be their last family Christmas photo.
“We’re still hoping for a miracle,” Ramos’ wife Sara said. “One beyond what doctors and medicine can give.”
So are we, Sara.