The Josey High School freshman wasn't at home like most youngsters; the 15-year-old was instead at Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center, where he had been since Monday undergoing a second round of chemotherapy.
"I thought there was going to be no Christmas this year," Carlton said.
But Santa and his helpers surprised him and the 66 other children at the hospital by visiting each room with presents, a burly laugh and words of hope.
"We've got a year to look forward to, don't we? But, that's OK," Santa told Carlton, presenting him with a stocking nearly as tall as he is stuffed with gifts. "Maybe next Christmas I can put it under the tree at home."
To spend next Christmas at home is the only wish his mother, Jervonna McBride, made this holiday. Carlton was diagnosed with a form of leukemia Oct. 30, his birthday, and spent 42 days hospitalized for chemotherapy treatments.
"I just want him to get better," she said. "We were planning on being home at Christmas."
Staying at his bedside night and day hasn't been easy, Ms. McBride said, but the look on his face Christmas morning brought a moment of comfort.
"I love it when he's happy because we've been through so much this year," she said. "He's happy; I'm happy."
Ms. McBride had worried that Carlton wouldn't enjoy a Christmas filled with the excitement of ripping open presents. She wasn't able to slip away from his bedside at the children's hospital to do her usual Christmas shopping.
Santa, however, brought plenty of toys for Carlton and even some for his siblings who were in the room with him.
"I'm definitely excited. I'm definitely excited," Carlton said, cleaning up the wrapping paper from his bed. "It made me feel better."
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.