Spirit of Santa lives in Roswell man

It turns out Santa has roots in Roswell.

Thomas Tolbert, 53, named this year by Time magazine as one of the top 11 Santas in the U.S. for his spirit of going the extra mile in his work, developed his skills as a 16-year-old working in a Roswell department store and as a theater student at the former Northside High School of the Performing Arts.

Though he spent the last two holidays working in a New Jersey mall, he is recognized wherever he goes. He was vacationing at Disney World in 2012, and children kept asking him for autographs and pictures. Disney officials were miffed and asked him to knock it off. Tolbert was miffed back and refused.

“I told them I don’t work for Disney, I work for the North Pole,” he wrote on his Facebook site.

“Christmas is not just a day. It’s a whole feeling in your soul,” Tolbert told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

His attitude explains why he makes a concentrated effort to look the part by investing in a personal tailor for custom-made clothes, accessories, belt buckles and boots. It’s an expense he takes upon himself, but it has external benefits. Sometimes he’ll catch people murmuring, “Is that Santa Claus?” when he’s out. True to form, Tolbert wants people to know he’s more than happy to speak to them whenever and wherever.

“My job is to make you think I’m Santa Claus,” he says.

In addition to the clothing, Santa gives himself the full treatment when he visits his Alpharetta hairdresser for three hours a week to keep the hair and beard up to specs. The two are like family now, he said. In addition to the grooming, he travels once a year to the Professional Santa Claus School in Denver to brush up his skills. He calls it the "Ivy League" of Santa schools.

He comes by his experience honestly. His family in Roswell would load a truck with food and toys when he was young and deliver them to area homes during Christmas. As a top Santa, he keeps delivering the goods in the form of the personal interest he takes in visitors, like the child with special needs who comes by about once a week for a quick dance with him, according to Time.

He encounters people who don’t have Christmas experiences or good vibes, but he believes Christmas is more a worldly vibe than a religious clash — and certainly more than a consumer holiday. It’s all about the spirit. He tries to set a Santa-ish example. For instance, when driving he refuses to honk at people who are holding up traffic

And he’s not afraid to hand out some naughty list warnings to a public figure. When U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., suggested recently that school children who are on free lunch programs ought to pay something or sweep the cafeteria to earn their lunch, Tolbert wrote: “When will we care more for the people than caring about the pennies. … Santa is sad that Mr. Kingston seems to never have ‘GOTTEN IT.”’

He gets a chance to put aside the persona when he comes home while tending to personal obligations and pleasures, but he always tries to live with the positivity that marks the Christmas spirit.

And the holidays aren’t the only time to really show it, Santa believes.