You could call it the Christmas wish heard around the world.
It had been years since Casey Hackett had been to see Santa Claus. Being on the autism spectrum, this young man with special needs finds the noise and bustle a bit much, and he isn't one for small talk. But this year was different.
For one thing, there was that PlayStation 2 and the other two game consoles he really wanted. And Santa was just so nice, sitting there bespectacled and jolly at the Dambly's Garden Center in Berlin, N.J., last Friday, that Casey, 22, sat right down on old St. Nick's lap. They talked presents and joked. Casey recited the names of the reindeer. It was nice, really nice.
So much so that Casey's mom, Meria, taped it and posted it on the Internet.
By Christmas Eve, that video had gone viral. It had more than 250,000 hits and growing. Meria was getting messages from as far as Europe and Australia and around the United States from viewers moved by the two-minute exchange between her son and the man in red.
"It's crazy. I've been getting messages on Facebook from Sweden and England," Meria said.
Clearly the rapport between her son and Santa was detected over the miles. Meria and her husband, John, were struck as well.
"It was like nobody else was there," Meria said. "It was a lot for us. He doesn't usually have a full-blown conversation."
Santa, who during the rest of the year is Dave Matsinger, 61, a union sheet metal worker from Pine Hill, said he has a special place in his heart for special people. "They lighten me up."
The secret to his rapport?
"I treat them like everybody else."
The Hacketts didn't realize it at first nor did Santa, but they met last summer when Casey was trying to raise money at a yard sale for a costume to entertain hospitalized children.
The Pine Hill man said he first started putting in public Santa appearances about 10 years ago for his grandson's Cub Scout troop. He visits local businesses, too.
He loves spreading the joy.
"I told my wife this year is probably my best year doing Santa Claus," he said.
This Christmas is turning out kind of special for the Hacketts as well. Their oven conked out about a week ago, so this is going to be a crock pot Christmas, Meria said.
Last year, she and her husband both lost their jobs. The Kmart where she was a manager closed, as did the Showboat casino where her husband worked.
Meria now has a job at a Ross store. Her husband is repairing computers. He doesn't have as many hours, but they are getting by.
Meanwhile, Casey, their oldest of two sons, is getting a big kick out of his newfound celebrity. He told his mom to post about him on Facebook to let Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber know that now he is famous, too. He said he is surprised but grateful.
"Thanks to all my viewers," Casey said. "We wish them a very merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year."
His grown-ups feel the wonder as well.
"I didn't expect all this," Meria said. "This outpouring is so warming. The spirit of Christmas is still alive."