Never mind that they could not hear the bright chiming of sleigh bells on the reindeer harnesses or the brassy Christmas carols tootled by Marine Corps bandsmen.
For more than 50 children from two schools for the deaf, Christmas was all in the hands. What mattered was that Santa Claus--this Santa Claus--spoke their language.
"Signing Santa"--Everett Wells Jr., a deaf electrical assembler from Canoga Park--clambered out of a crimson sled for "Silent Sleigh" day Tuesday, the start of the 40th annual Marine Corps' Toys for Tots holiday gift drive.
Reindeer on a Roll
The sleigh, although drawn by five-eighths of the North Pole's first-string reindeer team, rolled on pavement, not snow, and the weather outside the TRIPOD School for the Deaf in West Hollywood was anything but frosty.
But the children who had squirmed and fretted through the brief remarks of Mayor Tom Bradley and actor Richard Thomas mobbed this Santa Claus.
"I love you," signed a dark-haired little boy.
"I love you too," Santa Wells messaged back.
Wells, profoundly deaf since birth, began playing Santa to deaf children 15 years ago at his church, and "since that time people have been asking me to do it," he signed.
The kids accepted him nonchalantly; every child's vision of Santa Claus is one who speaks his language. But adults--especially parents who never thought their deaf children would be able to tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas--sometimes "cry, looking at him," said Santa's elf-for-a-day, C. J. Kirchner.
Some Are Skeptical
On Tuesday, the children from the TRIPOD school and Riverside's California School for the Deaf could not get enough of Wells, hopping up and down to get nearer and flashing queries on their fingers.
"Are you false?" one young skeptic messaged, pointing to the cascading white beard.
"No," Santa signed vehemently.
Another girl, just learning sign language, messaged crudely, but Santa figured it out: she was telling him what gifts he was to bring for her mother, her father and her siblings, "and you must buy them," she added, just to be safe.
Antlers for All
It was the first time Wells had ever worked with real reindeer, hired from an Oregon ranch, and before Santa arrived, the children were given 10-point yellow foam-rubber reindeer antlers, which some of the children immediately wore upside-down under their chins, like beards.
And by the time the real reindeer had pranced off stage right, one boy had already signed the obvious question to his mother, "But will they fly ?"