Boyd Applegate never set out to become a real bearded Santa Claus. No, the calling found him.
The 56-year-old, who was last on StoryCorps talking about volunteering at the polls on Election Day, is a big-rig truck driver. He's logged nearly 5 million miles on the road.
"Santa Claus was a byproduct of truck driving," he explained to his sister, Rhonda Dixon, at StoryCorps. "Because I drive a truck, I can have a beard that's a little bit longer than most people."
But impressive facial hair wasn't enough to qualify him for the trade.
Years ago, while on the road, Applegate stopped by a Wal-Mart because his head was cold. He serendipitously spotted a rack of Santa hats, picked one up and plopped it on his head. Moments later, a 4-year-old boy walking with his mother yanked her to a stop and exclaimed, "Look, it's Santa!"
Applegate hasn't spent a single Christmas Eve or Christmas Day at home with his family in the 18 years since that encounter.
"I'm usually in a rented red convertible, and I do under-the-tree gift deliveries that are designed for children to wake up and catch me in the middle of the process," Applegate explained.
He makes about 15 to 20 home visits between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and even has regulars he drops by to see every year. Party appearances — including for the military — are also annual rituals.
And this night-time pastime isn't a means to collect extra cash. Applegate refuses to accept money for his gift-giving and pays for the car rental himself.
"What are some of your favorite moments doing Santa Claus over the years?" Dixon asked her brother.
"One young lady wanted me to be her new stepfather," Applegate recalled. "One young lady wanted me to provide her a maid."
He even voyaged down to Tijuana, Mexico — a site he expects to return to this year — despite not knowing the language.
"In fact one year, when I was coming back, this young man comes running up to the side of the car. And when he saw me, his eyes opened, and his jaw dropped," Applegate said. "I gave him a really jolly, 'Ho, ho, ho,' and I handed him this gift."
A guard at the border had spotted the act and told Applegate, "You really must be Santa, and tonight I can't stop you, so go ahead."
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as Santa Claus, Applegate said, is to not believe yourself.
"When I walk out of the house in my suit, I cease being me, and I absolutely am Santa," he said.
It doesn't bother him if he encounters a skeptical teenager or if someone yanks on his beard.
"What matters the most to me is I believe," he said. "Santa Claus is truly the most important thing in my life."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo and recorded in partnership with KPBS.
Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.