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December 24, 2002

This Santa listens - in seven languages

From: The News Journal, DE - 24 Dec 2002

Associated Press

During one of Santa Claus' first visits to a shopping center in western Pennsylvania, a girl hung back as her younger sister told the jolly man what she wanted for Christmas.

But when the shy girl used sign language to tell her sister to smile, Santa signed back. It was the first time the youngster had ever spoken to St. Nick.

The scene touched and shocked the staff at the Mall at Robinson in Robinson Township, where Santa started visiting children and those with special needs a year ago.

"No one knew I could sign, but that's one of those things. Of course I can sign. Duh," Santa said.

The man in the red suit who sits on a gold throne in Santa's Castle at the Allegheny County mall is reluctant to give his real name - Bob Gump - because he says he's the real thing. From his real snowy beard and hair to his 200-pound frame, he's as close to Santa as anyone can get - he even has a credit card with the name "Santa Claus" printed on it.

"There are those who play Santa, but I am Santa," he said.

This St. Nick can listen to children's wishes in seven different languages, including sign language. He hopes to tackle Swahili, Farsi, Russian and Italian soon.

"I figure eventually I'll learn 15 or 16 languages," he said. "It's for the kids and their parents."

Copyright ©2002, The News Journal