Saturday is usually the day that I do the weekly grocery shopping at Walmart. It’s always busy, but manageable. Today was a different story because obviously it’s getting close to Christmas and there is shopping to be done. However, today was also the day that Santa Claus would be making an appearance for the children. And I was there right in the middle of the 12-4:00 time slot that he would be there. I carefully avoided the garden center area where he was set up, but that didn’t stop the volume of shoppers who were there with their children all decked out in Christmas attire for their visit and subsequent photo opp with Santa himself. I was patient as I weaved through the crowd, not because I’m a naturally patient person, but more because I had run 7 miles this morning and the ibuprofen hadn’t kicked in yet. I was moving slowly anyway, might as well make way for the excited children and their families. After paying for my groceries and heading out to my car, I couldn’t help but remember my own personal involvement with a department store Santa.

When I was a teenager in the early years of high school, my father worked at a Super K-mart store. At the time, K-mart and Walmart stores with the “Super” label were a novel concept. New enough for it to be the reason that my family moved to North Carolina just before I started the 7th grade. My father was offered a management position at a brand new Super K. It was a great store, complete with a full-service restaurant. The idea that you could stop at one store for everything, including groceries, turned out to be a hit.

During one Christmas season, my father’s store put a “pictures with Santa” event on their calendar. The store manager needed someone to be Santa’s “elf” and take Polaroid pictures of the kids on Santa’s lap for a small fee. When my father heard of the need, he turned to me. So, one weekend, I donned a Santa hat and a fanny pack to hold money, and worked as Santa’s helper to the tune of five tax-free dollars an hour. I wasn’t at the point in my teenager years where this sort of gig would have embarrassed me. There was no chance of that considering the store was a 45-minute drive from the city we lived in. It was certainly an interesting way to spend a Saturday.

As I stood next to the cardboard fireplace and watched child after child on the lap of Santa, I heard the same thing from the jolly man with every child he met. He would always encourage them to smile, and then he would tell them how smiling at one person would lead that person to smile at someone else and so on and so on, so that eventually the smile from one person will have traveled all the way around the world. I always smiled and was the happy “helper” I was being paid to be, but inside, I was getting annoyed at hearing the same cheesy thing over and over.

Fast forward a little more than 20 years later and honestly, what that Santa said to those kids is really at the heart of what we need to be doing as a society these days. Not just now, at Christmastime when it’s sort of the theme of the month to spread goodness and cheer, but really, all year. If we could all just be kind every chance we get, it will spread. Maybe not around the world like Santa told all those kids, but actually, why not? An act of kindness can go a long way, I’m sure of it. People don’t forget when nice things are done for them, or even when gentle and kind words are said to them. I’m positive that I’m not speaking of any kind of a new concept here, but the relevancy of being kind is not something that has an expiration date.

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