Secret Santa and The True Meaning of Christmas

December 7, 2006 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Secret SantaAfter keeping his identity secret for 26 years and giving away an estimated $1.3 million dollars to those less fortunate than himself, Secret Santa has revealed that he is Larry Stewart, 58, of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, near Kansas City. Santa has an aggressive form of esophageal cancer which has spread to his liver, and he’s revealed his identity in hopes that others will carry on his legacy of random acts of kindness.

Once unemployed, destitute and having lived out of his car for eight days, Santa ordered a big breakfast he couldn’t pay for at the Dixie Diner in Houston, Mississippi. Owner and cook Ted Horn befriended Santa, dropping $20 on the floor near Santa so that Stewart wouldn’t have to ask for a hand-out. Overcome by this kindness, Santa vowed that if he were ever in a position to help others, he would. Ultimately, Santa made millions in the cable television and long-distance telephone service industries.

Secret Santa in Better HealthHe began his work as Santa when he tipped a fast-food waitress with a $20 bill and she began to cry. Touched, he immediately went to the bank, withdrew $200, and continued his gift giving. Over the years, he graduated from small bills to giving people $100 bills. He likes to offer the gifts himself — with no tax write-off benefits — because the gifts aren’t something that people have to “beg for, get in line for, or apply for.” He searches for people who have a “lost look” in their eyes, and finds them in places like bus stations, diners, pawnshops and laundromats. For years, not even his wife and children knew he was the Secret Santa.

He also never forgot his original “angel,” diner owner Ted Horn. Santa returned to Houston, MS in 1999 to find the now-elderly diner owner and his wife, who was in ill health. Saying that the gift of $20 had seemed like $10,000 to him at the time, Stewart gave the diner owner $10,000. On another occasion, Santa gave a homeless woman who suffered from a brain aneurysm and lived in a tent but yet still managed to send her children to school, $4,000 and a “Mother of the Year” award. Santa, who never wanted any thanks, went to New York City after 9/11 and donated $5,000 to Saint Paul’s Chapel, which was serving 2,000 meals a day to firefighters sifting through World Trade Center rubble. He also traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

M. D. Anderson Cancer CenterAs a result of chemotherapy, Santa’s lost about 100 pounds. The clinical trial he’s enrolled in at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas isn’t covered by his insurance company, so the treatments cost Stewart $16,000 a month, not including travel and lodging costs. He’s concerned about his finances now and the effect this will all have on his family. Santa’s on a chemo holiday until February.

Why not email him at and wish him well, send him a Christmas card (4020 Baltimore St., Kansas City, MO 64111) or better yet, perform a random act of kindness and let him know what happened? Santa’s goal now is to inspire others to perform random acts of kindness. The dollar amount isn’t important. “That’s what we’re here for,” he says, “to help other people out. . . I’ve lived the story, so I know it’s definitely more blessed to give than receive, because it comes back to you many, many times over.”

Read more about Secret Santa.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Orlin Wagner and

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