"I cried all the way home."
**This story has not yet been fully retracted, but the original news source has not yet been able to verify its validity as no Knoxville-area hospital can confirm. Eric Schmitt-Matzen is still sticking to his story. Too good to be true? You decide!!**
It’s that time of year when the weather gets colder, and most people’s temperaments get a bit warmer as we bond together during the holiday season.
It’s also the time of year when business is booming for Santa Clauses-for-hire. From parties to parades to lengthy photography sessions at the mall, these professional Santas may take on gigs for the money or simply to spread the holiday spirit. But for one man, the role of Santa Claus just took on new meaning, and unfortunately it took incredible heartbreak to get there.
When Eric Schmitt-Matzen was called for a last-minute gig at a local hospital, he had no idea that his experience would change his perspective on Christmas forever.
The Santa Claus
If you saw Eric Schmitt-Matzen on the street, you would almost certainly do a double take. Maybe you’d even take a discreet picture and send it to your friends saying “I found Santa Claus.”
At 6-feet, 310+ pounds, complete with a stately white beard, Schmitt-Matzen is the very image of St. Nick, and doesn’t he know it. For years, Eric has worked 80 or more gigs annually dressed from head to toe in a tailored red suit and his award-winning beard and curly mustache. The 60-year-old was even trained at a Santa Claus school, and he keeps his ringtone on “Jingle Bells.” This guy is just about as close to the real deal as it gets, dedicated to spreading holiday cheer.
But a few weeks ago, Schmitt-Matzen took on a job that even he wasn’t prepared for.
Answering the Call
Just weeks ago, as the holiday season was getting into full swing, Schmitt-Matzen, who lives in the Knoxville area, received a call from a local hospital asking if he could rush to see a terminally-ill patient.
Within 15 minutes, Eric was there, though the short notice had only allowed him to slip on his famous Santa suspenders instead of his full outfit. Luckily, his beard and belly were convincing enough to make him look the whole part.
When he arrived, the nurse informed him that a dying patient had asked to see Santa before it was too late. She handed Schmitt-Matzen a gift and led him to the patient’s room.
That’s where he found the little boy.
Santa’s Number One Elf
Eric later recounted the scene in the hospital room:
“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep. I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, 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 five-year-old boy was able to pick himself up just enough to unwrap his gift. Then the boy explained, “They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?”
To which Schmitt-Matzen said, “When you get there, you tell ‘em you’re Santa’s number one elf, and I know they’ll let you in.”
Then the unthinkable happened.