My Santa Hat

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What’s in a hat? An unexpected, healthy dose of seasonal happiness, says Paul Blumenthal – if it’s a Santa hat.

Recently, just in time for the holidays, a friend gave me my first ever Santa hat. It’s a masterpiece; soft wool yarn, just the right shade of fire-engine red with bright white trim and an awesome tassel the size of a baseball. My friend, a pilot, knitted it herself, and when I asked her how she had time for knitting given her busy schedule, she shrugged her shoulders and with a wry smile just said, “Autopilot!”. I am sure she was kidding.

As a Jew, I had never thought to own, much less wear, a Santa hat. But over the years it’s become clear to me that Christmas is a state-of-mind as much as it is religious holiday; a collective winter solstice wish for a better world, no matter how material the marketers want to make it.

However, state-of-mind or not, I didn’t anticipate the effect that this simple seasonal symbol appeared to have on almost everyone with whom I have had contact while wearing it. Whether in the supermarket, the dry cleaners, or the bagel shop, people smiled and nodded at me as if they knew me. I was suddenly visible, and somehow greeting-worthy.

But the impact was even more profound at work. I am a gynecologist at Stanford and recently wore my hat around the hospital. In the corridors, the clinic, and even the intensive care unit, the effect was remarkable. Normally stressed-out, hyper-focused residents gave me a grin and two thumbs up. Colleagues, even the curmudgeonly ones, brightened as we passed in the hallway. And patients, whether lying in bed, on a stroll with their IV pole, or in a wheelchair, looked up and smiled.


Is it possible that this daft, frivolous hat could be having an uplifting effect on people? I wondered whether I could conduct a clinical trial to test out this Santa hat-happiness hypothesis. But life is short, and I will just have to content myself with feeling that my silly Santa hat had contributed to just a wee bit more goodwill in the world.

With a Perspective, I am Dr. Paul Blumenthal.

Paul Blumenthal is Professor and Chief of Gynecology at Stanford.