Santa Claus made his annual Christmas Eve rounds at Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville Tuesday, delivering laughter, candy canes and holiday cheer to patients and staff alike.

Mike Dekker, of Greenville, has been visiting patients at the hospital as Santa each Christmas Eve, ever since he was a patient there three years ago. It’s his way of bringing joy to people during the season.

Dekker remembers what it’s like to be away from home, as he spent 26 days in United Hospital in 2016.

He’s thankful for the care he received and he likes giving back with his annual visit.

“The nurses, nurses’ aids and other staff were just tremendous,” he said.

While a patient, Dekker formed a special bond with then-nurse tech Melissa Erickson.

“She was an angel for me,” Dekker said.

When Dekker arrived at the nurse station Tuesday, Erickson rushed to greet him with the excitement of a child.

Dekker had recently played Santa for Erickson’s family. “We had a very special evening,” she said. “It’s a friendship that will last forever.”

Dekker first started playing Santa in 1994 in Grand Rapids.

His reason is simple.

“Just bringing joy to the season,” he said. “I’m a Christian. Christmas has become so commercialized, and I’m also able share what Christmas is all about with people.”

His gesture has become an annual blessing to patients in Greenville.

“I think it’s pretty awesome,” patient Carol Reynolds said.

Staff were treated to hugs and candy canes as well, as Santa toured the hospital with Sara Stachon Durham, patient experience specialist.

“It’s a little taste of tradition for those who are unfortunately spending their holidays with us, rather than at home with their families,” Stachon Durham said. “It lightens the mood and raises the spirits of both patients and staff.”

“I do love Santa,” nurse Nycki Chatman said. “You can tell by the look in my eyes!”

Of course, for children, seeing Santa is always a big hit—especially the day before Christmas when anticipation of his visit peaks.

“Children visiting family members peer out rooms and their faces just light up when they see him,” Stachon Durham said. “Patients and staff are elated to see Santa.”

“This is my favorite day of the year,” she said.