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Remembering Secret Santa

This Christmas will mark the third holiday season without Larry Stewart, the original “Secret Santa.”

For over 25 years, Stewart anonymously handed out $100 bills on the streets of Kansas City. During that time, he gave away more than $1.2 million to strangers in need.

The more he gave, the more stories of his generosity spread across the country. Larry even appeared in disguise on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995. Secret Santa became famous, yet still anonymous. But he was more than just a Secret Santa during the Christmas season; he became a living example of Christ on earth.

Larry's Humble Beginnings

Larry Stewart grew up in a humble setting in Bruce, Mississippi. He never knew his dad, and his mother left at a young age. Raised by his grandparents, Larry learned an important lesson from his grandmother: “You don’t live well until you give well.”

That lesson hit home with Larry when he was homeless and struggling to make it after losing his first job out of college. One morning, without a penny to his name, Larry visited the Dixie Diner in Houston, Mississippi.

He ordered a big breakfast, knowing he did not have the money to pay for the food. After finishing, Larry pretended that he had lost his wallet. A cook approached Larry and said, “Son, you must have dropped this,” handing him a $20 bill.

Larry knew he hadn’t dropped the money, but he thanked the man and left. He bought enough gas to leave town and drove west, arriving in Kansas City with $18 to his name. Overwhelmingly grateful for the cook’s gift, Larry promised God that if God ever put him in a position to help others, he would do it.

Following Through On His Promise

Eight years later, Larry was starting to make a little money. Two weeks before Christmas on a cold evening, he stopped by a drive-in restaurant. A waitress, without a jacket, took his order. He handed her a $20 bill and told her to keep the change. The waitress’ face began to tremble and tears rolled down her cheeks. “Sir,” she said, “you have no idea what this means to me.”

That night, Larry remembered his promise to God years before. With $600 in the bank, he withdrew $200 and began driving around looking for people who needed help. He started handing out $5 and $10 bills all around town.

As Larry grew more and more successful in his business over the years, the $5 and $10 bills became $100 bills. For decades, Larry was known as “Secret Santa,” giving away thousands of dollars every Christmas—without ever revealing his identity.

In early 2006, Larry Stewart was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Doctors gave him little chance to make it more than few months. After a local newspaper told Larry they were going to reveal his identity as Secret Santa, he decided to come out and tell his own story.

Secret Santa was finally revealed.

Larry appeared on The Dave Ramsey Show just a month before his death in January 2007. Optimistic and cheerful as usual, he shared with Dave how his life evolved from a homeless twenty-something to a millionaire philanthropist. He encouraged everyone to become Secret Santas in their own communities, to go out and do at least one random act of kindness during the holiday season. Listen to the interview.

Without a doubt, Larry Stewart’s charitable spirit lives on. Through his incredible story of lifelong giving, and through the efforts of his Secret Santa Foundation, thousands of people are still impacted each year by his selflessness.

Take a lesson from the Secret Santa. Help out someone this Christmas. You don’t have to give a $100 bill to make a difference. Give your time, your abilities, and—if you have it—your money.

You don’t live well until you give well.

Ramsey Solutions

About the author

Ramsey Solutions

Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners.