What color is Santa?

Gena Bigler Columnist

December 19, 2013

What color is Santa?

Santa is black, white, brown, yellow, red and everything in between. Santa is an idea that there is a generous spirit living in each human. It is the idea that the innocent happiness of children should be rewarded for simply existing. Santa does not belong to a religion or a country. The idea of Santa is the embodiment of generosity.

Fighting about what color Santa is supposed to be is like waging war for peace. It misses the whole point. Years ago I read a story about Christmas on the frontlines of World War I. For one evening, the soldiers on both sides stopped fighting and sang together. The Christmas Truce of 1914 was real. It was a moment of human kindness and generosity.

The season of the darkest nights inspires the greatest generosity. Statistics show that about a third of all online giving happens in December. Donors also give bigger in December with about 80 percent more donations than in other months of the year.

Although the concept is very old, a particularly moving movie a decade ago brought out the notion of “paying it forward.” The idea of sparing some kindness for strangers was a good trend that took hold in a big way. It became popular to be kind. It became popular to be generous. It was a visible end of the celebration of greed that consumed the 1980s.

Like the Jewish mitzvah, an informal word for an act of kindness to another, a plethora of religions around the world encourage generosity to others. The secular embracing of kindness without promise of religious rewards is represented in the myth of Santa Claus.

The Santa Claus that we recognize today is a potpourri of historical figures, a generous Greek bishop, the Germanic god Odin and a variety of icons from folklore. The myth of Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and Sinterklaas has persisted because we need it. We need stories of immense generosity and hope. We need Santa Claus to remind us that not only should we be kind and generous but that we deserve kindness and generosity.

If you look closely, you will see random acts of kindness and generosity around you. From the obvious, like flash mobs and the ‘layaway Santas’ that make news by paying off the balance of stranger’s tabs, human generosity is very present.

There are more subtle acts of kindness that go uncelebrated except by the recipient. Most everyone has played ‘secret Santa’ for someone. How can you play Secret Santa today?

Drop a coin in a parking meter as you walk by, hold the door for someone who needs a hand, or leave a little larger tip than usual.

There are plenty of ways to be kind that don’t cost anything. You could let someone go in front of you in the checkout line. You could write to a soldier stationed overseas. You could do a chore you know a family member dislikes. You could tell a manager about especially good service. There are countless ways to be kind.

Today, a friend shared that a stranger randomly paid for her food in the drive-thru line and asked the cashier to wish her a ‘Merry Christmas.’ Stories like this tell us that Santa is alive in each random act of kindness.

I can with a clear conscience tell my children that Santa is real. The myth of Santa is not the story of a person, or a lie we tell children; it is a lesson about generosity and appreciation that we teach ourselves every year. It is a gift.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.