Christmas came early for 30 deaf or hard-of-hearing children in The Mall at Short Hills on Thursday.
For the first time in most of their young lives, these children got a chance to sit on Santa Claus's lap and sign what they wanted for Christmas as he signed back.
"It was something to watch an 8-year-old talk with Santa signing," the principal of The Lake Drive School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Mountain Lakes Julie Lazeration, said. "It was so amazing to see that interaction."
The school focuses on educating children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing from birth through high school throughout the state.
"When you think of going to see Santa Claus you don't think about that if a kid is deaf or hard-of-hearing they can't communicate," Lazeration said. "So for them, it is surely an opportunity to see it in their language."
The holiday event began at 11:30 a.m. at the Ice Place in the lower level of the grand court of the mall, where the children were split into age groups to take photos with Santa or eat lunch.
At 1 p.m., the children, aged 4 to 9, and teachers enjoyed an interactive magic show, The Circus Sisters, who perform the entire show in American sign.
Leslie Trifone, the mall's marketing specialist, contacted the school in August to set up this event, but not just for a signing Santa.
The mall wanted to give students something else that is a first — a kids' movie translated in sign language. "Ice Age 4" is the first film to integrate a sign-language interpretation in the movie using picture-in-picture, Trifone explained.
"What better way to kick off this movie release than to share it with school that teaches deaf children," she said.
The movie comes out Dec. 11 and will be given to all the children who attended, Trifone said. Each child also received a goodie-bag filled with gifts, such as activity books and note pads.
"They made sure they had gifts for every child, girls and boys," Lazeration said. "They covered every end of it."
The Mall at Short Hills partnered with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and paid all the event expenses for the school, down to the bus.
The only other similar event the school has been asked to attend is a Broadway show that has a sign language interpreter. However, that is mainly for the older children Lazeration explained.
"It was an amazing opportunity for everyone," Lazeration said. "The hardest thing was not being able to bring the whole school."
The Lake Drive School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is located at 10 Lack Drive in Mountain Lakes. It offers a full spectrum of educational options for children from birth through high school, according to its website.
Currently the school has 250 students in attendance from nearly 100 communities, across 12 different counties in New Jersey.