He has been carrying on this tradition for four decades and has posed with more than 1,500 babies.
Christmas is usually a joyous time for every family across the world. However, there are some places that are filled with worry and anxiety even during this joyous time. The NICU ward is one such place filled with newborns fighting for their lives and their parents anxiously waiting to finally take their children home. However, a sweet tradition at Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester has been trying to put smiles on everyone's faces during the holiday season since 1984.
Robert Sinkin wears a fake white beard and red velvet Santa costume to bring smiles to thousands of NICU parents this time of the year. He started the tradition in 1984 when he was just a doctor in training and the previous Santa was stepping down from the role. The then-30-year-old Sinkin was asked if he would like to fill in Santa's shoes and he immediately agreed, reports The Washington Post. He initially wasn't sure he would be able to do the job well as he was a skinny Jewish man. "It was wonderful to give families the precious photo they couldn’t get at the mall because their babies were in the NICU," he said. "I don't celebrate Christmas, but it was obvious that a visit from Santa was filling an important need for a lot of families."
Sinkin has eagerly anticipated visiting families as Santa every December for almost 40 years, from his post-residency fellowship in Rochester, New York, to his current position as a neonatologist at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital in Charlottesville. He's been growing a beard for the past eight years to look more like Saint Nicholas. One year, after someone commented that his eyebrows were too dark, he coated them with zinc oxide.
Sinkin, who is now 68, made a challenging decision this year: He decided it was time to hang up his robes and give another doctor the opportunity to continue the cherished holiday tradition in the NICU at U-Va. He said, "I’m going to be retiring in the not-so-distant future, so I think it’s reasonable for somebody else to enjoy playing Santa." Sinkin posed for pictures with 51 NICU infants—including a set of triplets and a set of twins—on December 15, his last day as Santa Claus. He was accompanied by neonatal nurse Naomi Rademeyer, who has been Mrs. Claus for the previous few years.
The mother of the triplets he visited, Kaitlyn Key, said she could tell right away that Sinkin wasn't just acting the part of Santa Claus. She said, "He was so natural at it—you could tell it was something he enjoyed and was good at. It’s hard to have my babies in the NICU, so seeing Santa Claus making his rounds brought a lot of joy." According to Sinkin, he has posed with more than 1,500 babies over nearly four decades and is likely represented in just as many photo albums.
He said, "There are families who don’t want a picture with Santa, and we've always respected that. But for those who do, it provides a way for them to have that special photo during a time they'd normally be out picking out a Christmas tree or going shopping." He said that while the majority of parents eventually take their newborns home, for some parents of extremely sick newborns, a photo with Santa Claus may be one of their only sentimental photographs.
"Over the years, I’ve gotten thank you cards from parents whose child didn’t survive. They wanted to tell me how much they treasured that picture and thank me for the memory. That means a lot," Sinkin shared. According to him, other people have updated him on a child's high school graduation or wedding. He said, "Their kids are going off to college and they’re remembering that time their baby was held by Santa in the NICU."