Delaware students cheer Santa in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ re-enactment

The Honorable M. Jane Brady sits next to Kent County, De. Family Court Judge James G. McGiffin, Jr., portraying Kris Kringle take part in a Christmas performance inside a courtroom at the New Castle County Courthouse in downtown Wilmington on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019.    (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

The Honorable M. Jane Brady sits next to Kent County, De. Family Court Judge James G. McGiffin, Jr., portraying Kris Kringle take part in a Christmas performance inside a courtroom at the New Castle County Courthouse in downtown Wilmington on Friday, Dec. 13, 2019. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

Kris Kringle is the real Santa Claus.

That was the ruling of a Delaware judge Friday morning as part of the court’s reenactment of the climactic scene from “Miracle on 34th Street.”

A raucous Wilmington courtroom filled with about 150 students celebrated the judge’s ruling in favor of Kringle, portrayed by Delaware Family Court Judge James McGiffin. The judge’s billowy white beard lent an air of authenticity to the role.

Kris Kringle holds a letter addresed to Santa. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

“When my beard turned white, I figured, it can be an asset,” McGiffin said between performances Friday morning. “It’s gratifying to me that they respond so well.”

Since 2004, Delaware courts have reenacted the film’s courtroom scene for school kids throughout the state. This year, about 1,500 students watched the production in courtrooms in Georgetown, Dover and Wilmington.

Student from Thurgood Marshall Elementary School in Newark watch the performance starring Kris Kringle. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

“Miracle on 34th Street” was released in theaters in 1947. The classic film tells the tale of Kringle, a department store Santa who is so believable, leaders at Macy’s and competitor Gimbels fight over having him represent their store. That dispute eventually lands in court, where a judge rules in favor of Kringle after a mountain of mail addressed to Santa is delivered to the courtroom.

The Honorable Jan R. Jurden, President Judge for the Superior Court of Delaware, sorts through thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

Retired Judge Jane Brady has been part of the Delaware reenactment since its beginning, when she was Delaware attorney general. “The kids are really impressed by this,” she said.

This year, Brady stars as St. Nick’s defense attorney. She’s also portrayed the prosecutor, and while she was on the bench, she naturally played the judge.

All rise in the courtroom, as the Christmas performance began. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

“Two of the kids were talking, and he goes, ‘Is that really Santa Claus?’ and the other goes, ‘Hey, they just proved it in court.’ And so it’s really cool to see the impact on the kids. They just love it.”

Brady is now president of the board of trustees for the Delaware Law Related Education Center which aims to enhance the presence of law-related education initiatives in Delaware.

“Bringing kids into the courtroom is really a part of what I love to do, help them understand the role of the different parties in the court,” she said.

Judge McGiffin also deals with children in his day job in Family Court, but under much different circumstances, ruling on cases that are not typically happy affairs.

Kris Kringle receives a warm applause at the conclusion of the performance. (Butch Comegys for WHYY)

“Everything we do is directed to the best interests of children, so we’re always trying to help, but this is just a little more dramatic as a display of affection for kids,” he said.

McGiffin stayed in character as the students left the courtroom, handing out candy canes and taking some last-minute requests for Christmas gifts.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal