'Being Santa is very special': Support pours in for sick Edmonton Santa
Cecil Hawley's granddaughter asked people to send photos of her grandpa—and children young and old responded
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One of Edmonton’s most popular Santas is facing a health crisis, but an outpouring of support from across the city has been a small Christmas miracle, four months early.
Two months ago, Cecil Hawley, a retired military firefighter who has entertained children at Londonderry Mall every Christmas for the last five years, was admitted to the University of Alberta hospital with a throat infection.
His condition got worse rapidly, and he spent several weeks in a coma.
Now the man known for his booming "ho ho ho" remains in the intensive care unit, unable to speak.
Although his family jokes that he’s “tough as a mule,” it’s been a hard struggle.
So on Wednesday, his granddaughter Nicole Hawley took to Facebook with a simple request: “I'm reaching out to the public to help lift my grandpa’s spirits,” she wrote.
“I'm posting to see if anyone is willing to send me photos of their little ones with my grandpa.”
She figured she’d get a handful of photos so she could make her grandfather an album.
By Thursday morning she had over a thousand, with more pouring in.
“I’m flabbergasted,” she told Metro. “I knew my grandparents touched a lot of people but I didn’t know this many.” Cecil’s wife Dana works as Mrs. Claus alongside her husband.
“I didn’t want to go to sleep last night because I didn’t want to miss messages. I’ve been trying to respond to each one, trying to make it personal, but by the time I hit send on one there are three more.”
There are pictures of Cecil with dogs, with adults, with babies and with senior citizens. Some people who couldn’t find photos sent stories, and at least one neighbour came and knocked on the door to see how he was.
One woman wrote a long message about the winter she spent avoiding Santas because she knew her young daughter would want a photo—a luxury she couldn’t afford.
“But my grandparents waved them over and insisted and gave her the photo for free, and she said it’s still a really precious possession,” Nicole said.
Dana, who acted as Mrs. Claus alongside her husband, said he looked forward to Christmas all year.
“Being a Santa is very, very special,” she said. “And he really does have a way with children."
“One thing that was really close to this Santa’s heart was working with the autistic children,” she said, referring to the days Londonderry hosts just for kids with special needs.
“It was just a miracle that he was able to work with these kids, and to see the joys for parents.”
She said she can’t wait to share the latest photos with her husband at the hospital. When the first few came in they showed Cecil right away.
“It was a genuine smile, and he hadn’t smiled in two months,” she said. “Then he did the thumbs up, and I said, ‘Oh my god, this is going to work.’”
“It’s the power of love and the power of hope.”