Katie and Neil O’Connor had big plans for Christmas this year.
They were going to host 30 family members at their new home in Albany. They had catering lined up. They planned to spend the day eating and showing off their firstborn son Ryan Francis — a child who should have been two weeks old by Christmas.
Instead, they spent the holiday on the third floor of St. Peter’s Hospital, bringing 8-pound Ryan into the world.
“He was 12 days late,” Katie said. “They just had the gathering at my mother’s house.”
Their plans were scuttled, but neither seemed all that concerned. Hospital staff even did their best to make Christmas extra special for the young family.
Early Wednesday morning, Bill Rosenberger dressed up in a well-worn Santa costume and pushed little Ryan into the O’Connors’ room.
“This is the best present ever,” he said, handing over their Christmas-pajama-clad baby.
Ryan was born at 7:38 p.m. on Dec. 23. Katie already introduced him to visiting family, but she cried all the same looking at his striped fleece leggings.
“I’m so glad you arrived before Christmas,” she said. “Well, sort of.”
The Santa deliveries are a long-running tradition at St. Peter’s. Every year, children born within a day or two of the holiday are dressed in festive outfits donated by the nursing staff. A few are delivered by Santa amid snapping camera shutters during press tours of the hospital.
It’s been going on for 42 years. This time wasn’t much different.
Rosenberger donned the red coat and hat and brought Ryan to his parents. Before that, he carried a wailing, day-old Elijah to his mother and father, Amy and Caleb Finch, telling watching big sisters to help out around the house. Kaylie Lynn slept in a Christmas dress as Santa handed her over to Rebecca and Nathan Williams, a new family with Christmas gifts still sitting under a tree in their Valatie home.
“This is my favorite stop of the season,” Rosenberger said.
He’s a professional Santa Claus for the month of December. He was out doing in-home Santa visits all night. For more than a decade, baby deliveries at St. Peter’s have marked the end of his Santa season. He plans to be back next year, but one aspect of the tradition will change.
All those years ago, it was newborn-nursery technician Valerie Dussalt who first dressed a Christmas baby in special clothes and called in a Santa. Every year since she has bought the outfits and dressed the babies. This year, little Ryan marked her last.
“I’m retiring,” she said. “New Year’s is my last day. I’ll miss it a lot.”
Over the decades, she said, picking out baby costumes was the best part of her job. Now that the job is coming to an end, she can’t stay away from the joy and cuteness of new life.
Starting as soon as possible after her last day of paid work, she’ll be back at St. Peter’s as a “baby cuddler” — which is the official term for the volunteers who comfort newborns in the neonatal unit.
She wasn’t sure Wednesday who will carry on the tradition next year.