Soldier Son Dresses as Santa, Surprises Mom on Christmas Eve

A New Jersey mother received a surprising and heartfelt Christmas gift this past Tuesday evening when her son, an Army mechanic stationed in Afghanistan, showed up at her work dressed as Santa.

Leslie Ruggiero, a nurse in Brick, N.J., was not expecting her son, 29-year-old Army Spc. Travis Ruggiero, to be home for the holidays, but rather to be stationed in Afghanistan during the Christmas season. It was to her happy surprise on Tuesday evening, while attending a Christmas work party, that her son managed to get a 21-day leave from work and make it home just in time for Christmas Day.

Leslie was accompanying other maternity ward nurses at Ocean County Medical Center at their holiday party on Christmas Eve when a man dressed as Santa gave her a large red letter to read. A video of the event shows Leslie tearing up as she read the letter, telling her coworkers that it was from her son who is on a nine-month tour in Afghanistan.

The video shows Leslie reading the letter as Santa, standing behind her, slowly begins removing his hat, fake white beard and glasses. Leslie then turns around, and elated, embraces her son as her fellow nurses applaud the heartwarming moment.

"Christmas for me is family," Leslie told KTLA 5 in a video that captured the entire Christmas surprise. "So this changes everything for me."

Travis had reportedly arrived in his hometown of Brick Township a few days before Christmas Eve, and succeeded in keeping his mother's surprise a secret by laying low at his cousin's house nearby, although he told TODAY that he did have a few close calls, including almost running into his aunt at the local market.

"There were a couple close calls,'' Travis told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie. "You've just got to be good with secrets."

Leslie commented: "It started off as such an uneventful day. [I] got to work [during] the holiday season, and then it's amazing how just one little incident can just change your life, your day, forever. I'm still in awe that he pulled this off."

After surprising his mother, Travis and his friend reportedly toured Ocean County Medical Center, handing out goody bags to patients and employees.