Hawaii Celebrates 25 Years of Deaf Santa

Photo: Caleb Kepo’o (right) watches as Deaf Santa (left) asks, “What do you want for Christmas?” in American Sign Language (ASL).

On Thursday, December 9, 2016, more than 100 Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind (DHHDB) students from across Hawaii gathered at the Pearlridge Shopping Center to pay a visit to “Deaf Santa.”

The event marked the 25th anniversary of the Deaf Santa program, which was created for students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade who are DHHDB. Participating schools included Keaau Elementary (Hawaii), Waimalu Elementary (Oahu), Pomaikai Elementary (Maui), Lehua Elementary (Oahu) and the Hawaii School for the Deaf and the Blind (Oahu).

The event featured approximately 200 people ranging from children and family to teachers, educational assistants, and other members of the local community. Those on hand gathered at the space formerly occupied by Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour. Students who attended rode on the Pearlridge Express, met Santa, and conveyed their Christmas wishes via American Sign Language. They were also treated to live entertainment, which included ASL storytelling, skits, poems, and songs.


Photos: (From left to right) Suzanne Chun Oakland congratulates the community for its 25th Deaf Santa; students enjoying the live entertainment.

Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland appeared to extend congratulations and present event organizers with a certificate from the Hawaii State Legislature.

The Hawaii Department of Education arranged for children from Neighbor Islands to be flown to Oahu in order to participate.

“This is an opportunity for the students to come and be with peers who have similar backgrounds and situations,” said Keaau Elementary Principal Ron Jarvis who brought six students to the event. “We come from an area of the island with high poverty rates and some of the students don’t have the opportunity to travel, so they were excited from the moment we got to the airport.”

According to Susanna Rivera, instructor for Keaau Elementary’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing program, the event was essentially a Christmas miracle for students.

“A lot of times, they’ll go with their parents to see (traditional) Santa, and Santa’s beard goes up and down and they go ‘OK’ but they don’t actually know what he’s saying,” Rivera said. “(A deaf Santa) validates who they are. He’s a person they can (communicate with), and they don’t have to use an interpreter. When there’s a real Santa actually looking at you in the eye and listening to you, it makes a difference.”

For more information about Deaf Santa, contact Jan Fried at 734-9891 (V), jfried@hawaii.edu, or (808) 447-3141 (VP).