SANTA Claus is going to have a few new magical tricks up his sleeve this year following a unique sign language class in Thornbury.

With just over a month to go until Christmas, volunteers standing in for St Nick, including in Thornbury for New Sibland’s School and children’s charity Jigsaw, came together to work out how best they could interact with children not able to communicate conventionally.

The “Jolly of Santas” was given a crash course in Makaton, a simplified sign language that also uses symbols, supporting speech development rather than replacing it.

In a short space of time, they went from the basics of “hello” and “what is your name” to asking what presents the children want and if they have been naughty or nice this year.

Gazette Series:

Nicola Pike and Erin Jefferies with the signing Santas

Tutors Nicola Pike and Erin Jefferies, who live in Thornbury and Winterbourne, and both have children with Down’s syndrome, said the workshop was inspired after they had “awful experiences” in grottos with Father Christmas over the years, who were not been able to communicate effectively.

“The experiences have been non-meaningful and have left the children feeling pretty empty, sad and miserable,” said Nicola.

“We have, however, had some lovely experiences where Santa has known a bit of sign language or has copied us, and that is what has really inspired this workshop.”

Bristol-based Santa Jeff Caswell, who has donned the role for many years, said he had previously been taught some sign language by the mother of a deaf girl before a visit.

“When I arrived I said hello and Merry Christmas and she was transfixed by me,” he said. “It still brings a lump to my throat, it was the nicest experience I’ve ever had.”

Gazette Series: The Santas practicing their signing

The Santas discussing what presents children might want for Christmas

“All children are different and special in their own way and it is very important you get it right,” said Jigsaw Santa David Churton.

“You can’t have a stunted approach, so it is always good to have a little helper who can point you in the direction for that child.”

Comparing the moment to the iconic scene in Hollywood classic “Miracle on 34th Street”, she said how breath-taking it is to see a disabled child’s face light up when surprised with such positive interaction.

Erin said: “To be included and given that time rather than it looking like to much of a challenge, rather than passing them by is so special.

“Disabled children have the same needs as everyone else – to be loved, to be wanted and to be needed. Meeting Father Christmas is one of the best experiences they get each year and want to enjoy it as much as everyone else.”

Nicola added: “All Santas should be able to sign. They do the most important job in the world for these children, and it is a magical time to be able to talk to Santa.

“If they even just make a tiny bit of difference to a child - that is all we could ask for.”