Christmas Jeer

Has a long beard. Lives as a recluse in a foreign land. Shoves suspicious packages down chim neys. Are we really supposed to trust this so-called Santa Claus? One St. Louis shopping mall says no and has barred a familiar St. Nick from the premises.

For five years now, Roy Tidwell has done his holiday shopping dressed as Father Christmas. But new security rules in place since Sept. 11 at the Westfield South County Mall prohibit visitors from wearing costumes. So, Al Qaeda operative or no, the jolly 50-year-old Imperial, Mo., man can’t do the patriotic duty advertisers crave until he mends his ways.

Westfield’s Sean Phillips explained the reasoning to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “An unidentified person dressed as Santa Claus approaching children is a security concern—especially someone who can’t be identified other than ‘He looked like Santa Claus.’ ”

Tidwell, who spreads cheer in an attractive $300 ermine Santa suit (the beard is real), says he doesn’t bother anyone while he’s shopping, though he does get in character if people approach him. “It gets everyone in the Christmas spirit, and I enjoy it,” he says.

Since the story broke last week, Tidwell’s gotten support from people far and wide who don’t think he’s some evil Santa bin Claus. “They’ve shaken my hand,” he says, “and told me to keep it up.”