When Charles Graves was 5 years old, his parents took him and his siblings to see Santa Claus at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio. But that Santa had no idea how to communicate with a deaf child. Graves, who works as a night residential educator at the Texas School for the Deaf, has found a way to transform that sad Santa visit. In 2019, he was invited to play Santa at a holiday event organized by the San Antonio Police Department for children in need. He and his wife, Kari, a graphic designer who is also deaf, soon decided to take on additional gigs as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Communicating through sign language is transforming for kids who have wondered how Santa will know what they want for Christmas, as well as for deaf parents, he says. This year, about 20 families with deaf children were among those hosted by Gaylord National Resort for free photos with Graves. “They’re creating their first special Christmas memory with Santa Claus as adults, and those moments stay with me,” Graves said.

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