What does Christmas mean to you? Cookies, caroling, colored lights and all-night Santa vigils frequently top the list for most folks.
But when you get right down to it, the concept of Christmas is really about unconditional love. Old Saint Nick spreads holiday cheer to kids of all ages, and having a good heart is the only requirement.
Maybe that’s why one particular mall Santa photo recently went viral. It shows Bob Gudorf, dressed as his beloved alter ego “Santa Bob,” sharing cookies and milk with an overjoyed little boy named Austin Maners.
Four-year-old Austin resides in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his family. He also happens to live with autism and has feeding challenges that force him to rely on a feeding tube for nourishment.
Not long ago, Austin visited Glenbrook Square mall with his mom, Beth Salzbrenner. They wanted to celebrate the holiday season by snapping a picture with Santa.
As Santa Bob mentioned on Facebook, he noticed that Austin was struggling to wait in the lengthy line that day. “My elves asked him and his family to come to the front,” this kindly Father Christmas explained.
What happened next is prompting applause across social media. Salzbrenner asked if Santa would take a photo while pouring “milk,” Austin’s special formula, into the feeding tube.
Santa Bob gladly complied, and Austin’s grateful mom immediately posted the photo to Facebook. “Austin thought he was cool stuff sitting in Santa’s chair,” she wrote, “and who doesn’t love cookies and milk with Santa!”
She noted that Santa Bob seemed to tremble with nervousness just a tiny bit, but she praised him profusely for making Austin’s day. “This Santa deserves to be recognized for his willingness to tube feed my little guy so that he felt included,” she said.
The heartwarming gesture caught the attention of local CBS affiliate WANE-TV. They interviewed Salzbrenner, who lamented the fact that she never gave Santa Bob a sufficiently sizable “thank you” in person.
So WANE-TV helped perpetuate the holiday magic by arranging a festive face-to-face meeting. But first, they spoke to Santa Bob himself via telephone.
They learned that Gudorf struggles with a pinched nerve in his shoulder, which accounts for the slight tremor Salzbrenner noticed. Gudorf also recalled that, as he poured the formula, “I was nervous that I was going to spill it.”
But things certainly worked out wonderfully in the end. Better yet, Gudorf said he’d gladly adopt the jolly guise of Santa Bob to reunite with Austin and Salzbrenner once again.
WANE-TV captured all the merriment on camera. The day of their meeting, Austin scrambled right into Santa Bob’s lap like they were old buddies.
Mom rushed straight over to Santa Bob’s chair as well. And true to her wish, she got the chance to share her abundant thanks.
“I’ll tell you what,” replied Santa Bob with true North Pole gallantry, “I’ll take a hug from him is all the thanks I need. I’ll take a hug from both of you.”
Humbly recalling his own willingness to help a pint-sized admirer with special needs, Santa Bob told WANE-TV that the smile on young Austin’s face “just made my day.”
Judging from over 60,000 enthusiastic shares that Salzbrenner’s original post has received as of Friday morning, a lot of people feel the very same way.
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