You might have seen a news story a few days ago about a guy named Thomas Tolbert. Thomas was told to change his clothes at Disney World because he was dressed "Santa-ish." I've embedded the news report above, just in case you were too busy reading trivial news stories about Syria or whatever. What none of the news reports seemed to address was why exactly there was a man dressed as Santa at Disney World in the summer. So I called up Thomas to find out.
VICE: Hi Thomas. Let's get this straight: You dress up in Santa-style clothing all year round, right?
Thomas: Yes, today I have on a red shirt with gold star buttons and olive branches around a silhouette of a deer head and white and gold braided lace on the collar and sleeves.
Is your hair naturally that color?
I have a professional hair stylist who colors my hair, beard, and moustache.
What made you decide to become a constant Santa?
The thing that made me decide to become Santa, I think, was nine years ago, when my father passed away with cancer.
I'm sorry to hear that.
Well, thank you. He was born during the depression here in Roswell, Georgia, and when he was growing up, he was very poor. At Christmas, the merchants of Roswell would gather all the kids and families in the park, and they'd have brown paper bags full of gifts and all the kids would get something. And it meant so much to him. So, when he was older, he would buy lots of stuff at Christmas, and put on a dime-store Santa suit, and drive across the countryside. Each time he would see a house with the lights on, he would honk the horn. If someone opened the door, he would say to them, "Santa's here! And I want you to come pick something out of my truck." He'd let the kids pick something, and give the lady of the house some food, and then be on his way. So why did I become Santa? Because I believe in the spirit of Christmas, and I think it was in my DNA from my father.
Fair enough, but why do it all year round, rather than just, say, at Christmas?
Well, the world is kind of in disarray right now, people hurting each other and people not really caring about each other. Any time you see Santa, regardless of how old you are, if you believe or if you don't believe, there's a little lift in your heart, and there's a smile, and maybe a little goodness and happiness. People think Santa is only for Christmas, but Santa can bring love and joy and happiness and magic to anybody at any time.
Good vibes. Was it a gradual transformation for you? Or did you have a moment where you were like, "I'm gonna become Santa right now!"?
It was sudden. It was Christmas Eve, and I went to visit a family I know who have a disabled child. He's 20, but he's the size of a nine-month-old baby. I was dressed as Santa, wearing a fake beard and moustache. The family were eating dessert, but I couldn't because of my beard, so I said I'd hold the young boy in my arms while they ate. His mom said, "Oh, I don't know about that, he's quite fidgety and he doesn't like people he doesn't know." But his grandfather said, "Let him try." So I sat down on the couch, and I held him, and he was fidgety and moaning and I was talking to him and bouncing him in my arms, and then, before my eyes, he began to slowly change.
He changed, what?
Yes, he went from having crooked arms and a crooked back, and his eyes changed, to the most beautiful brown, and he became the Christ child. And this isn't like the Christ child like you'd buy at the Dime Store or anything, he looked more brown. Like Turkish or Indian, but as if he was a newborn baby.
Right... I'm afraid the phone line is quite bad, but go on.
And I just looked at him. And then I looked up at the mother, and she had changed too! Her physical features were completely different. She looked very young, probably around a teenager, with a beautfiul smile, and I didn't say anything. I just looked at her, and she smiled and said, "You are very blessed." I looked down at the boy and he slowly came back to being his visual self. I think I had a Holy Christmas Encounter. And that night, I went home, just amazed, and I took off my fake beard, took a shower, washed my hair and I've never shaved from that moment.
I was blessed by that moment, and in my heart, I knew this was what I needed to do.
What does your family think of it?
They've never said they had a problem, but if they did, I can't help that. I feel it was a calling. I know my mom is very proud of me.
I was looking on your Facebook, and almost all of your friends are Santas.
They are Santa impersonators. A lot of them aren't friends of mine, they're people I've never met who friended me. It's kinda like being in a fraternity at college, you're friends because you have a common bond, but you never meet.
So there's a global community of Santas?
Yes. We have conventions and meetups and schools. There's lots and lots of Santas. We all may look a little different, some may be a little taller, a little shorter, a little wider, you know? I mean, one of the best Santas I know is a black Santa. He's just like Santa, but his skin is black. So, you know, Santa can be anyone. He can be black, he can be white, he can be Asian; Santa can be anything to a child who believes.
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @JLCT
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