It began in a ShopRite supermarket in Fairless Hills, when a mall Santa noticed Scott Diethorne's thick white beard and jolly personality.
You'd make a good Santa, the man told Diethorne, Diethorne's daughter Megan Greene recalled.
Diethorne took his advice and over the next two decades, he developed quite a following, with thousands of social-media followers and web pages full of glowing testimonials.
With stints at King of Prussia Mall, Christiana Mall, and currently the Oxford Valley Mall, Santa Scott's goofy poses set him apart. By request, he was known to hang a child upside down and flash the "Naughty" and "Nice" tattoos on his forearms.
Until this year, that is, when customers said they arrived for early Christmas photos at the Oxford Valley Mall in Langhorne to find out that Santa Scott could only take "traditional" Christmas pictures — no tattoo-showing and no upside-down poses.
The backlash was swift. Facebook users began posting, urging fellow fans of Santa Scott to contact Cherry Hill Programs, the company in charge of the Oxford Valley Mall Santas.
In response to questions from the Inquirer and Daily News, Cherry Hill Programs said in a statement: "During this special time of year, we are focused on delivering a magical holiday experience. We remain dedicated to preserving the tradition and image of Santa with authentic holiday visits for every guest to our programs."
Diethorne, 50, declined to comment for this article, citing his Santa contract. But his daughter Greene, 24, said that she and her family were worried about the outcry. Diethorne loves being Santa, she said, and doesn't want anything to jeopardize his ability to do that.
"I feel, personally, that if they are really his fans, they'll go see him anyway," Greene said. "I want people to know he's still there."
Many of Santa Scott's die-hard fans have remained loyal. Trisha Frank, 34, of Trevose, is one of them.
For a time, she couldn't get daughter Hayley Frank, now 8, to sit for a photo with Santa. Then they went to see Santa Scott.
"He calmed her down. He made her smile and giggle," Frank said. "We won't even attempt another Santa at this point. He's absolutely incredible."
Amanda Nagy and her boyfriend, Bob Kelly, both 24 and from Bristol, come out every year for pet night, one of Diethorne's favorite events. In Santa Scott fashion, the nights come with a twist — not only does this Santa welcome cats and dogs, but he'll also pose with any other type of animal one considers a pet.
Nagy takes her four snakes.
But when the couple went to see Santa Scott last month, they found out they couldn't get his tattoos in the picture as they usually request.
"I was like, 'What? That's crazy,' " Nagy said. " 'That's what you're known for.' "
However, they still got their photo taken with Santa Scott. At this point, it has become a tradition — one hindered but not halted by this year's restrictions.
When Greene talks about her father's work as Santa, and the devoted fan base he has established, she becomes emotional.
Greene is proud, she said, of how hard her father has worked to provide for his family. Diethorne is a father of nine and grandfather of 10, with an 11th grandchild due on Christmas Day.
For 26 years, the Pennsburg native has worked as a truck driver. But come November, his boss lets him take off Tuesday through Sunday so he can "be Santa," Greene said.
"I think he truly believes he is Santa," Greene said.
From Nov. 10 to Christmas Eve, Diethorne spends most of his time in character — at the mall, local photo studios, fund-raisers, private parties, and Breakfasts With Santa.
Even when he is out of costume, Greene said, children recognize him. Sometimes, she said, her father will be out running errands and a child will yell, "That's Santa Scott!" No matter what, she said, her father will drop whatever he is doing and crouch down to talk about the child's Christmas list or whether he or she has been good this year.
"He wants to make everyone happy," Greene said, and "I feel like his happiest time of the year is Christmas."
He may be happiest, she said, when he is working with children with special needs. Each year, on Christmas Eve, Diethorne works at the mall until 9 p.m. He comes home to spend a little time with his family but then heads out to deliver presents and visit with children with special needs in the Levittown area.
Greene said she thinks her father's depth of experience makes him such a great Santa. With so many children and grandchildren, he is always in tune with the latest toy trends and knows how to relate to kids. And even with the pose restrictions, his passion for the job hasn't change. Greene doubts it ever will.
How long does Diethorne see himself staying in the Santa business?