Every year for as long as he can remember, 39-year-old Billy Mo Buckbee has dressed like Santa in New Milford, Connecticut, and ho-ho-hoed up the holidays for young and old. Wearing a Santa suit was a hobby, but he dreamed of taking a leave of absence from his job with an electricity supply company so that he could become a mall Santa.
Then the economy tanked. Three months ago, Buckbee’s job was eliminated. So he did what all aspiring Santas would do. He started growing out his red beard, bleached it white and applied to shake his belly like a bowlful of jelly in Any Mall, USA.
He got the Santa job, and said told the Santa placement agency he was willing to travel (Mr. Claus is often relocated for purposes of keeping his under-the-beard identity under wraps). So they sent him to Tupelo, Mississippi, and there, even in his Santa suit, where he found, to his surprise, he struggled to maintain the Christmas spirit.
The daily struggles were trying, but manageable—he was working far, far from home (in a place where “Hi Santa!” is replaced with a slow, southern, “Heeeey Saaanta!”) and putting in upwards of 70 hours per week in a sauna of a Santa suit. But he hit rock bottom in early December, when someone broke into Buckbee’s Jeep Wrangler and stole his GPS, GPS accessories and new iPhone charger. There he was, granting wishes and yuletide glee to any and all, while outside his own belongs were being ripped off.
The response he received from the mall where he’s working was about as chilly as a night at the North Pole. Same goes for his insurance company, which doesn’t cover personal effects in the vehicle. Though the lost items are worth only about $300, this Santa felt robbed of much more.
“It’s not like $300 worth of stuff taken out of my Jeep is going to kill me. It’s not like I’m devastated dollar wise. I can go buy another GPS. It’s just—you’re stealing from Santa Claus, man.”
Fortunately, some elves were hard at work behind the scenes. Buckbee had been posting updates on Facebook documenting his winter wonderland adventures—good and bad. So when one of his friends read about his plight, she started the group “Save This Santa.”
“Save this Santa’s sole purpose is to brighten the holiday of one sad little Santa stuck in Tupelo, Mississippi,” reads the site. The goal is to raise enough money to buy a new GPS, accessories and an iPhone charger to replace the items that were stolen.
Buckbee says he’s honored that such a site was started, and has watched in amazement as people he’s never met donate money to brighten his own Christmas.
It’s returned the ho-ho-ho to his voice and enabled him to make merry for the kids of Tupelo—and that’s no easy task. Christmas wishes run the gamut there—one little boy asked him for a ponytail. A young girl asked him for a four-wheeler and a cupcake. Another kid took a running leap at his lap, landed, and proclaimed, “I pooted!”
No one ever said Santa’s life was all cookies and milk.