For most of us, a vacation can be a great way to escape the stresses of work life and briefly shed our professional personas. But for Thomas Tolbert, a professional Santa Claus, his looks make it a bit harder to separate his work self from his vacation self. Even when he’s not sporting a red suit and black boots, Tolbert screams St. Nick with his bushy white beard, thick white hair and rotund shape.
So on a recent trip to Disney World, excited young park-goers surrounded Tolbert, mistaking him for Kris Kringle and requesting photos and autographs. Though he wasn’t dressed up in full Santa regalia, he was looking fairly Christmassy in red high-top sneakers with green laces and a shirt adorned with Santa Claus heads and quotes from The Night Before Christmas, NBC News reports. When park officials noticed a crowd had gathered, an employee quickly intervened.
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“He told me, ‘You cannot be Santa and you can’t wear that shirt in the park,'” Tolbert told NBC News. “He asked if I had any clothes in my hotel room that were less ‘Santa-ish’ and took me into a shop and pulled a 3X t-shirt from the rack to see if it would fit me.” Disney officials also asked Tolbert to tell park-goers, “I’m not who you think I am. I’m on vacation and you need to leave me alone.” Tolbert, however, refused, as he said he felt Santa would never say something like that.
When asked to confirm these events, Walt Disney World Resort told NBC News, “It was disruptive to our operations and confusing to our other guests, particularly children who asked to take photos with him.” To compensate for the inconvenience, park officials offered Tolbert complimentary park hopper passes, but the offer didn’t appease him.
“Disney doesn’t own the character of Santa,” Tolbert said. “The world does.”
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