THERE ARE FEW certainties in life, but December always brings a few. Our neighbors will decorate their houses with bright lights, our mailbox will be stuffed with letters asking for charitable donations and the financial pundits will speculate whether there’ll be a Santa Claus rally this year.
If you’re a regular reader of HumbleDollar, you know that a Santa Claus rally has the potential to fill our portfolios with extra dollars via higher stock and mutual fund prices. But the Santa Claus rally I want to share has been much more valuable to me than a few extra percentage points added to my net worth.
I was in my early 20s and slowly putting my life back together after bankrupting myself with my compulsive gambling addiction. As the holidays came around, I began feeling lonely and even more depressed than usual. I had lost my money, my girlfriend and most of my self-esteem. A friend suggested I spend Thanksgiving delivering meals to seniors who couldn’t get out of the house. For at least one day, I forgot myself and felt good because of the smiles and joy my deliveries had brought.
The Christmas season was going to be even harder. I’m the kind of guy who watches all the holiday movies and cartoons and can’t get enough of the spirit of giving. I decided to leverage my Thanksgiving learnings. I went to the costume shop and bought the most expensive Santa suit I could find. If I had a financial advisor back then, she would have warned against adding the equivalent of a week’s pay to my credit card debt. But more than 35 years later, I can say it was one of the best purchases I ever made.
I soon became a volunteer in the Santa Claus helper patrol. I dressed up for parties and for friends. On Christmas Day, a friend dressed up as an elf and we drove around the Bay Area bringing good will and joy to friends and strangers along the way. It’s hard to describe the look in children’s and even adults’ eyes when they look into Santa’s eyes. Twinkling and shining are apt adjectives. The joy in my heart was even bigger. While Christmas Day was fun, my biggest learning and memory came the following year.
That year, the office where I worked hosted a Christmas party for a group of 20 children who had been orphaned and were awaiting placement in foster homes. These kids ranged in age from six months to 12 or 13. Some were disfigured or had fresh scars from recent beatings. A few were disabled and needed assistance.
My job at the party was to hand out presents that the people in our office had purchased for each kid. As I—Santa—made my entrance, I hugged as many kids as I could find, while giving a hearty “ho ho ho” and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. One little boy, who was probably five or six years old and who, believe it or not, was named Don, gave Santa the biggest and strongest hug he had ever felt, and then said, “Santa, I love you.”
Everywhere Santa went, little Don followed. He hung on Santa’s leg and tugged on Santa’s pants. Frankly, the kid started to annoy me. When Santa sat down to hand out the gifts, little Don ran to the front of the line to sit on Santa’s knee first and to get his presents. “Ah ha,” the man behind the beard thought, “now he’ll go and play with his presents and leave me alone.”
But when Santa gave Don his gifts, Don ran over to a little boy who was in a wheelchair and couldn’t make it to Santa’s lap. Don gave the boy the presents, ran back to Santa’s lap, hugged him hard, told him he loved him again and never asked for another gift. Behind my beard and makeup were tears that, luckily, little Don couldn’t see. I had thought that he was only interested in presents, not Santa or the other kids. Although I gave out the presents that day, little Don showed and gave big Don the greatest gift of all—the gift of love.
I, of course, hope our finances enjoy a Santa Claus rally this year. But there’s a bigger Santa rally that I wish for you, no matter what winter holiday you do or don’t celebrate. I’m talking about the rally—the inspiration—that comes from sharing your time and your love. I can’t promise your portfolio will get bigger in the next few days. But I can guarantee that, if you remember to give some love, your heart will grow larger.