“Which came first, the beard or the role?”
Vince, a jovial man dedicated to spreading holiday joy and good cheer, wastes no time with his response.
“The role came first.”
But the beard was soon to follow.
“I used to do it for my two nieces,” Vince explains. “And then eventually it started progressing.”
The watershed moment came one Thursday night several years ago when Vince found a group of developmentally disabled children playing at the alley where his bowling league met.
“I asked for permission, changed in the back room, and all of a sudden, I come out, and one of the girls starts screaming, ‘Santa Claus!’”
Both the children and their parents were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of “Santa,” and Vince spent the evening walking up and down the lanes, greeting bowlers as he went. The smiles he was able to elicit that night left a lasting impact.
“That made my night.”
So much so that Vince offered to return on subsequent evenings and play the part for other leagues and bowlers. Everyone deserves a dose of the holiday spirit, after all!
A short time later, this very thought occurred to Vince while at work.
“I said to myself, you know what, I have this suit. Just out of curiosity…”
The next thing he knew, Vince was in his boss’ office, submitting a silent proposal.
“I didn’t even talk to my boss, I just walked in,” Vince describes. “I had my backpack with me, I placed it on the desk, and then slowly I take out the pants, the jacket, the hat, the beard. And my boss is looking at me going, ‘Really? You’re going to be Santa Claus?’”
But despite his initial surprise, Vince’s boss okayed the charade, on one condition – that Vince include with his costume the safety equipment necessary for working in the shop. Vince agreed, opting for a pair of red-framed safety glasses and mechanic’s gloves to complete the look.
After that first year spent spreading Christmas magic, Vince made the decision to commit to a different aspect of that look.
“The first year, I had a fake beard, and kids would pull it down. The second year, I said, I’m going to try to let it grow and see what happens.”
Several months later, Vince realized,
“I don’t look like Santa Claus, I look like Moses!”
He wasn’t the only one to make such a connection. Friends started calling Vince anything from St. Joseph to Captain Highliner. His solution?
“I got this tint, a temporary colour,” Vince relays. “I put it on, looked in the mirror… nah, not yet. A little bit more. Well, I became as white as a ghost! It got whiter over time!”
Vince’s early predicaments weren’t only related to his beard, however. When asked about his standout moments, he laughs over an early Christmas luncheon in which he was caught red-handed – or rather, green-footed.
“One of the kids noticed that I had lime green writing on my running shoes before I left and got dressed up. I have shoe covers, so I don’t think about what I’m wearing on my feet, but one of the covers came off, and this boy said, ‘I know who that guy is – he’s not Santa!’”
But despite the growing pains that came along with the role, Vince persisted, refining his outfit and his act along the way. Now, seven years later, he’s become a bit of a local celebrity, making appearances anywhere from bowling alleys to Christmas parties to even senior residences – all without charging a cent!
“It’s my own time,” Vince offers casually. “And I don’t ask for anything.”
The payoff of spreading Christmas cheer is enough for him.
“I enjoy it,” Vince explains. “Because I put happy smiles on everybody’s face. Doesn’t matter – kids, parents, seniors… it’s just an all-around joyous time.”
“I have guys at work asking me now, ‘Are you going to play Santa Claus?’” Vince beams. “They look forward to it.”
And Vince does, too. But with strict regulations in place this year due to COVID-19, it doesn’t look as though he will be able to oblige.
“It’s a bad year,” he says candidly, before offering a positive prediction.
“I think that next year’s going to be even better. More people will want to celebrate.”
In the meantime, Vince is encouraging everyone to stay positive, have fun, and enjoy the Christmas season.
“Even in a normal year,” he begins. “By the time Christmas comes around, people are starting to get tired. Everybody’s kind of down. When I see that, I always try to encourage them. I say, ‘Hey, remember, Santa Claus is behind the door. He’s knocking. He’s just around the corner.’”
In other words, have faith, stay strong, and hold onto hope. Because that’s what the Christmas spirit is all about.