KNOXVILLE, TENN. – It’s a Christmas story from East Tennessee that has gained worldwide attention.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen spreads Christmas cheer year-round and grants wishes as Santa Claus. His long white beard and curled mustache makes him perfect for the part.
He and his wife, who joins him as Mrs. Claus, even went to Santa school six years ago.
But a month and a half ago, he answered the call to grant what would end up being one child’s final Christmas wish.
“He was more concerned about missing Christmas, than dying,” Schmitt-Matzen recalled to WBIR 10News.
He said he had just gotten home from work when a nurse at a local hospital called and said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.
He was at the hospital in about 15 minutes and met the boy’s mother and other family members. She handed Schmitt-Matzen a toy to give to her child.
“When I got there, it was my job to make sure he got Christmas,” Schmitt-Matzen said.
With this tough task ahead of him, he asked everyone else to leave the room so that he wouldn’t break down in tears.
This is how he described what happened next, to a Knoxville News Sentinel columnist:
“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!
“He looked up and said, ‘I am?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“I gave him the present. He was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. When he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down.
‘“They say I’m gonna die,’ he told me. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
“I said, ‘Can you do me a big favor?’
“He said, ‘Sure!’
“When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.
“He said, ‘They will?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: ‘Santa, can you help me?’
“I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him.