They came upon a midnight clear, and left the lighting behind.
Sean Dieter opened the door of his East Falls home on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 4, to let his dog outside, and in so doing, felt that something was missing.
On his sloped, postage-stamp front lawn, there were five festive lights, four concrete steps, three tomato cages –repurposed as Christmas lighting fixtures – and two extension cords, one of which led to an empty patch of grass where, until that morning, there had been an eight-foot tall inflatable Santa.
Appraising the situation, Dieter went back in the house and broke the news to his wife Natasha.
“Somebody,” he intoned solemnly, “stole my Santa.”
An inflatable wonderland
Until that Sunday, Dieter’s inflatable Santa – similar in make to this model – was among the most prominent and extroverted of the various holiday displays in his East Falls neighborhood.
The yearly tradition began in 2009, when Dieter spied the outsized Kris Kringle at Lowe’s Hardware while attempting to acquire holiday decorations within the budgetary confines set forth by his wife.
Inflatable Santa’s box had been opened previously, and was therefore eligible for a discount.
It was $48 – “a budget-blower,” in Dieter’s words – but well worth the investment.
“There were no holes,” he observed, adding that, “it was perfect.”
Noting that value often exceeds cost, Dieter mentioned that, “at about five bucks a foot, that’s good value for your inflatable-Santa budget.”
With his newly-acquired Christmas accoutrement in hand, he had great visions for the future.
“I wanted the most obnoxious light-up neighborhood in America,” said Dieter.
“(Santa) was going to be the centerpiece of more inflatable stuff – inflatable penguins, inflatable Santa on a Harley,” he continued. “He was going to be the show piece and then I was going to build off of him.”
“It was going to be an inflatable wonderland,” mused Dieter, adding that the Inflatable Santa “really brought a Griswold-esque flavor to the season,” in reference to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Twas the night before…
The evening prior to the theft, Sean and Natasha hosted a holiday gathering with friends.
“We have a mini-tradition of setting up our tree and making ornaments,” said Sean, “and we put on Christmas movies and music, which helps us all get into the spirit.”
Before going to bed at approximately 2 a.m., Sean let his dog out one final time for the night and unplugged Inflatable Santa.
“I unplug it at night because part of the real joy of the Santa is watching him arise from his slumber (in the morning) and bring Christmas joy to everybody,” he said.
“Plus,” Sean added, “we can’t run it all night,” referencing the 25-percent spike in their December electric bill.
In addition to its internal lighting and the fan used to maintain his turgidity, Inflatable Santa used solid-state circuitry to gesture at neighbors and passing motorists.
“He moved his arms, and he turned his head,” said Sean. “He was an ambassador to the entrance to this neighborhood – anybody who came in gets a nice holiday greeting from this guy. It’d brighten your day, and now that’s all gone.”
Summarizing his feelings that Sunday morning, Dieter said, “It was surprisingly devastating,”
A symbol of community spirit
Channeling these feelings, Dieter took his displaced holiday spirit to the streets – with a sign.
“I wanted to generate awareness that [Santa was] stolen,” he said, continuing, “and take it in a different direction – to maintain my Christmas spirit and get back to a happier place.”
Placed prominently on the lawn where Santa had stood, Dieter’s sign featured a message that began, “Dear Grinch…,” and listed a variety of holiday-related maladies that he hoped might befall the perpetrators.
He concluded with an allusion to the revenge strategy enacted by Kevin McCallister in Home Alone.
“It was really therapeutic to make the sign” he said, and noted that it heightened neighborhood dialogue about the theft.
Reaction in Dieter’s East Falls neighborhood has been supportive.
Scott Levitt, a neighbor, said that the inflatable Santa was a symbol of community spirit.
“It was a holiday tradition of Gypsy Lane,” said Levitt, “and it will be sadly missed.”
Sean’s wife Natasha, who originally thought that Inflatable Santa was, in her words, “a bit much,” eventually grew to love Santa “almost as much as Sean.”
“It saddens me because it dampened (Sean’s) Christmas spirit,” she said.
Dieter proffered various theories of the case in regard to possible suspects – his wife, it turns out, has an airtight alibi – but thus far all remain speculative, as he is reluctant to burden police with his complaint.
“It would have been great to be in the police report in The Fallser,” he said, “but I didn’t want to bother the police with this – they have bigger fish to fry.”
Holding out for Christmas morning
Even with Christmas looming, there is still hope for an expeditious return of Inflatable Santa.
According to a recent report by the Associated Press, a resident of Unionville, IN experienced a similar theft earlier this month.
After an initial posting of the story and notice of a reward in local media outlets, Jared McClellan told The Herald-Times in Bloomington that his Santa had been returned, along with $100 in cash and a note of apology.
It remains to be seen whether the Inflatable Santa of Gypsy Lane will be reappear.
“My only hope,” said Dieter, “is that, just like the plot of every single Christmas movie, on Christmas morning, I wake up, and I look out, and clear off all the fog from the windows, and there he is in all his glory waving.”
Asked if he had any parting words to the thief, or thieves, Dieter offered counsel.
“Lock him up,” he said, “because he’s awesome and somebody else might steal him from you.”