- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) - Instead of having a meltdown on her 40th birthday, Tiffany Neace put a positive spin on a date she’d been dreading.

Decked out in pearls and a Mrs. Claus outfit that accentuated her curves, Neace spread birthday - and holiday - cheer by handing out hundreds of lottery tickets to strangers.

She was joined by her sister, aunt and friends, many of them showing more leg and cleavage than the saintly white-haired wife of Santa normally does.

The group of 10, which included Richard Zahn, a self-appointed bodyguard to watch over the women, wandered through Spotsylvania Towne Centre and downtown Fredericksburg on Dec. 12.

“They got everybody’s attention because they all looked fabulous,” said Bernadette Esler, co-owner of Irish Eyes store in Fredericksburg. “I thought it was fantastic. We just couldn’t believe she was giving out lottery tickets.”

Neace, who goes by Tiffany Cloud in the workplace, used to be in real estate and has always carried scratch-offs. Not because the Stafford County woman plays them - in fact, she’s not much of a gambler - but she believes they’re a great reward.

She’s given them out at sales meetings, to feed-store workers who load up her car or kids who bag her groceries.

“If you give somebody a dollar, that’s insulting,” she said, “but if you give somebody a chance to win $5,000, that’s exciting.”

The idea of becoming “#FXBGSanta,” as the event became known on social media, came about as Neace pondered the big 4-0.

She’d been freaking out since she turned 39. For as long as she can remember, 40 was synonymous with old. Plus, her only child, Gabriel Mendoza, had moved out, and she didn’t like being an empty-nester.

In recent months, she “tried to figure out how not to be 40.” She got a new car, visited a plastic surgeon and reasoned she probably didn’t look her age, but still was bummed.

Her husband, Darrell, a retired master sergeant from the Marine Corps, wanted to throw her a party. Online, he announced plans for one, along with a contest for the ugliest sweater and best Mrs. Claus.

But he’s a government contractor who does a big military exercise in mid-December, and she didn’t want him to shirk his duties. So, the Neaces canceled the birthday bash, but not before several friends and relatives purchased Santa suits.

That’s when Neace decided the group could slip into their fur-lined costumes and high heels and make the day merry for others.

She asked friends to give her $1 holiday scratch-offs instead of presents. She’s not certain of the total because things got chaotic, but she believes the group handed out about 600 tickets.

“It was amazing. People were very responsive and sweet,” said Neace’s friend, Ann Marie Haselhuhn.

Each ticket was tucked into a holiday gift bag along with some information about the Santas. Neace asked people who received a winning ticket to share their stories.

“I love the thought that one of the lottery tickets we pass out could make a huge impact on somebody’s Christmas,” she wrote.

Neace and her friends said they plan to pick the best story and picture on Jan. 1 and provide “additional blessings” from the Fredericksburg Santas.

She was somewhat disappointed that she hadn’t heard many responses on Facebook. Neace assured people she doesn’t want a cut of the money or turn anyone in to tax officials.

“Statistically, you know someone has to win,” she said, quoting the ticket that says odds of winning are one in 4.71. “But even if I don’t hear about it, I know in my heart it’s doing good.”

Plus, playing Mrs. Claus was so much fun, Neace definitely wants to ward off future birthday blues by again making Christmas merry for others.

“This is going to be my new birthday tradition,” she said.

___

Information from: The Free Lance-Star, http://www.fredericksburg.com/

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