“Most other kids don’t get to say they had photos taken with Santa at 2 weeks old,” said Christopher Kasper and Jordan Sellars, as they looked down on little Brixley, who will be spending his first Christmas in the Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“We had to rush out and buy him his first Christmas ornament as we weren’t planning on this at all,” Jordan said. “He’s going to have the coolest story. He is the best Christmas present we could have ever asked for.”

Christopher and Jordan are just one of about 80 families who will be spending the holidays in the NICU at the children’s hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

To add to the fun for families this year, Santa made a special visit to take photos with the tiny babies and their parents.

The event, created by the Child Life team at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and the March of Dimes, and has been a fan favorite for years. Because of visitor restrictions in 2020, Santa Claus himself is a member of the NICU team who volunteered to make spirits bright.

Jason Yakes, RN, is a nurse in the NICU as his day job but moonlights as the man in red for Christmas.

“I was up all night, practicing,” he said with a jolly smile under his mask and beard. “I had as many cookies and milk as I could to get myself into the spirit.”

Santa and his entourage of helpers went from room to room visiting the tiny babies, who were dressed in their best holiday gear, including red and green tutus and Santa outfits of their own.

“Santa, shhhh!” said one of the nurses as he entered the Small Baby Unit with a Ho Ho Ho. “We need you to tone down your Ho Ho Hos in here.”

Yes, Santa got shushed.

Greg and Elisa Webb, parents of twin boys in the Small Baby Unit said they didn’t expect to have pictures with Santa this year. The boys were not due until Feb. 16 but made their debut at 25 weeks on Nov. 13. Friday the 13th of 2020 even, mom joked.

“We’re going to be here snuggled up with the boys on Christmas day,” Elisa said as she smiled down at her double bundle of joy. “We just can’t wait to spend more time with them.”

Doctors and nurses stopped Santa for photos as he made his way from family to family.

“Santa can be a little particular about his hand sanitizer,” one of the nursing staff added as she laughed and helped him with hand sanitizer.

Amy Nyberg, March of Dimes NICU family support program coordinator, said she wasn’t sure she would get the go ahead for the event this year due to the pandemic, but was happy to be able to pull it off with some changes and new safety precautions.

Nyberg made “Best Gift Ever” onesies for every baby in the NICU and Gay Sexton, Child Life assistant, prepared tutu creation kits for families.

“Little girls in tutus is a rite of passage in the NICU,” she said with a smile.

Mariah Perez-Calas made use of the materials, creating a red, white and green tutu and headband for her little Natalie.  She and her husband, Aaron, got the inspiration for the outfit from their love of cosplay and crafting.

“Having a baby in the NICU is an up and down emotional roller coaster,” she said.  “But with all of the support from doctors and nurses on hand, it makes us feel very safe and secure. The team guides our hand and make us calm and comfortable during otherwise very hard times.”

And with that, Santa exited with a jolly, yet quiet Ho Ho Ho. He was on his way back to the North Pole, or nursing station, to get ready for his next job of the season.