Rev. Jaime Wolfe Sr. greets every Walmart customer with a "Merry Christmas!" as he collects donations in the Salvation Army's signature red kettle. But rather than return the phrase, one man attacked the bell-ringer instead.
The reverend was outside of a Walmart in Roseville, California, when an unidentified male suspect assaulted him. The man was reportedly not after the charity funds, but rather Wolfe's cheery spirit.
"He haymakered me, hit me, got me down on the ground and we started wrestling, at that point I’m fighting for my life," Wolfe told KOVR.
Wolfe suffered bruises from the incident but was not significantly harmed. He was released following a brief examination at Kaiser Permanente and is doing fine.
"The store says they love him and he’s been the best bell ringer they’ve ever had, so an attack that’s unprovoked is very surprising and very unfortunate. It’s not the call we’d expect to get at night," said Lt. Steve Palakis, who has been with the Salvation Army for 14 years.
Wolfe admitted he was shaken up by the "definitely unexpected" attack, but said that it didn't hamper his Christmas spirit and that he'd be back out collecting donations the next day.
Despite Wolfe's resilience, Palakis said he was disheartened about the incident.
"It's really saddening that one of our bell-ringers would be out there working day after day for us and that's met with hate and punches to the face and kicks to the face," Palakis said.
The exact wording of holiday greetings frequently spoken by volunteers and store clerks has proven to be a contentious issue between religious and secular groups. It's not the first time that a Salvation Army volunteer has been attacked following a holiday greeting.
In 2013, Vice News reported that a bell-ringer outside of a Walmart in Arizona was assaulted by a woman for saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas."
Kristina Vindiola recalled that the woman looked at her as soon as she uttered the phrase. She thought she was going to make a donation.
"She came up to me and said: 'Do you believe in God?' And she says: 'You're supposed to say Merry Christmas,' and that's when she hit me," Vindiola said.
Vindiola said at the time that she planned to press charges, adding that the woman "should've just been happy I said 'Happy Holidays,' but I got hit because I didn't say 'Merry Christmas.'"