The rules of ‘Secret Santa,’ pandemic-approved

Be a secret Santa to spread joy to those who are struggling this year.

Sophia Kunze, 9, helps her mom Yasmin Kunze shovel the sidewalk outside their house Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist /

According to the 2020 Deloitte holiday retail survey, four categories of shoppers exist: the festive shopper, the conscious shopper, the deal-seeker and the efficient shopper. Do you know what stood out to me while reading the survey findings? All shoppers “are still spreading cheer.”

Without delivering a Christmas sermon, I think we’re all called to spread cheer at different times in our lives, regardless of demographics, shopping tendencies or buying habits.

Spreading Christmas cheer doesn’t mean spending more of your hard-earned money. According to the Deloitte study, “38% of shoppers plan to spend less year over year because of concerns around economic instability.”

If there was ever a holiday season to spread cheer it is 2020. Consider the “secret Santa” approach. I’m not talking about the white elephant gift Secret Santa. While I enjoy that tradition for an office, friend or family gathering, I’m referring to a quiet secret Santa that doesn’t involve drawing a name or assigning spending limit parameters.

As you’re reading, think of folks who you could secretly share a cheerful boost.


Maybe it’s your child’s teachers who are weary of pandemic-style teaching. Or your pastor wondering if his or her congregants will ever return to the church pews. Maybe it’s a doctor, nurse, firefighter, mail carrier, delivery driver, construction crew or other essential workers who could use even a small gesture of appreciation to get through another day.

Do you know of a frazzled parent who is now home trying to juggle their kids’ online learning while keeping up with their job responsibilities? Almost all of us have an elderly friend with limited or no visitors this holiday season or loved ones (or complete strangers, for that matter) in a nursing home or care facility who could use a little cheer.

Lest we forget those who have experienced deep loss the past year.

According to a University of Southern California study released in July, for every COVID-19 death, now at 271,000 in the U.S. alone, nine people grieve. Nearly 2.5 million Americans grieve the death of a loved one who died of a virus we didn’t know about one year ago. Rural or urban, people in your area are grieving. The “bereavement multiplier,” as the study calls it, leaves a “tidal wave of grief resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Spread cheer to the tidal wave of those grieving. A retail study won’t capture the type of cheer you’re spreading but those receiving it will be positively impacted by your giving and care.

The secret Santa inside of you can shovel a driveway when it snows again.

Practice a few Christmas songs and go caroling with your household.

Give a larger tip to someone in the service industry, such as your hairstylist, the person delivering your groceries or the restaurant server helping you purchase a gift card.


Create homemade gifts. I remember receiving embroidered dishtowels from a secret Santa once and know they were made and given with great love.

Set up a video call with family members or a friend you haven’t seen and set aside an hour to simply talk about your lives. Since COVID has limited our family interactions and in-person gatherings, my siblings, parents, aunts, uncles and cousins have used video calls to stay in touch. My 90-year old grandma has even joined. I’ve also reconnected with friends via Zoom calls.

On the heels of Christmas 2019, our son was in a skiing accident and suffered a spinal cord injury. From Dec. 27, 2019, to Jan. 6, 2020, St. Anthony’s Hospital in Lakewood, Colo, was home. It was the dozens of secret Santas during those 11 days, and the months to follow, who kept us going. Someday I hope to write more about the secret Santas in my own life, many of which were strangers who dropped into our lives during those dark days. I tried to write down those names and somewhere in a box of cards I think my sister has at least a partial list. Their acts of kindness, joy, love and cheer forever left a mark on my family and me. My outlook on helping others and accepting help changed from the experience.

Be a secret Santa. Spread cheer this season.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

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Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher

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