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I love giving gifts, especially incognito. Hanukkah and Christmas give me lots of opportunities for that to happen. The Secret Santa is one of the best ideas, and flips the script on the commercialism that can sadly creep into the season–to return the giving season back to the ultimate gift: sharing with others without expectation of return.
Hence, a worthy subject for Feel-Good Friday.
Santa Claus has been a folkloric figure associated with Christmas since American colonial times, derived from the Dutch name for St. Nicholas. In the Dutch dialect of the New York colony, the jolly gift-giver was known as “Sante Klaas,” and as early as 1773 his name was rendered as “St. A Claus” in a notice in the New York Gazette. As the Santa Claus legend took shape in the mid-19th century, his moniker could get shortened simply to “Santa.” A Christmas Eve verse from 1850 in Rhode Island’s Newport Daily News went, “Sound the trumpets, beat the drums, Lo and behold, old Santa comes.”
The phrase “secret Santa” didn’t appear in U.S. newspapers until the early 20th century, and when it did, it could simply refer to an anonymous benefactor distributing Christmas gifts to needy children. It would take several decades for “Secret Santa” to get attached to gift swaps, but in the meantime, the practice began developing under different names in the American heartland.
A concept called Giving Hope helps to further the ethos of the Secret Santa and allows the community to contribute to those in need. This is one of the ways that my church congregation gives back. You are given the option to sponsor one boy or girl, both, or several children. The age ranges from infants to teenagers, and you purchase age-appropriate gifts for them. Here’s the beauty part. Instead of throwing the gifts out there and allowing the children to pick them at random, a Giving Hope Christmas Mall Experience is set up. So, the parents in need come out, they are paired with a personal host, and they select the gifts they want to give to their children. Once the gifts are selected, they are wrapped, and the parents take them home for Christmas Day! The concept is not only about supporting individual families with gifts, but also with dignity.
East Idaho plays Secret Santa to their community each Christmas. Along with the weekly Feel-Good Fridays to worthy persons in the community, they help a local “Secret Santa” give $1 million to deserving people in eastern Idaho.
One recipient of this Secret Santa largesse is a woman named Melinda. Melinda is battling the double whammy of breast cancer as well as heart failure. Her husband John has a rare medical condition, has suffered two mini-strokes, and he was recently hospitalized with life-threatening seizures. So, Melinda is the family’s sole breadwinner and caregiver, and needed some help this Christmas. Nate Eaton of East Idaho News paid Melinda and John a visit with some special holiday gifts that addressed their specific needs.
Whether it’s a relationship with a friend, family member, co-worker, or a family within your community, being a Secret Santa offers the joy of giving–and ushering in the spirit of Christmas–for someone who may desperately need it this year.