A comprehensive guide to the Richmond Christmas Mother

Maya Payne Smart: Accomplished writer, ambassador for women’s rights, tireless supporter of children’s literacy, and Mother of Everything Christmas. 

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Update #1 — January 5, 2015; 1:48 PM

Guys, as of Saturday, the Christmas Mother Fund had topped $321,000! That’s a lot of bones! You could safely say that Maya Smart crushed it, if you were in the habit of saying things like that. I am.

Here are the grantees. And to all a good night!

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Original — December 17, 2014

It was big news around town this year when it was announced that Maya Smart would be the…2014 Christmas Mother!

But also, will you guys be honest and tell me whether or not you even had heard of the “Christmas Mother?” I feel like a real clod for not knowing, and then I felt like an annoyed clod when I couldn’t find anything online that said “In case you didn’t know, the Christmas Mother is XYZ,” as if it’s been around 80 years (it has) and I’m supposed to be intimately familiar with the entire list of matriarchal ladies who have worn the…crown? 

Here are some Christmas Mother FAQs, which I have written, with assistance from Maya Payne Smart, a Very Patient Person, who furnished me with a lot of information.

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WHO or WHAT is the Christmas Mother?

The spokesperson and chief fundraiser for a particular fund, aptly named The Christmas Mother Fund. 

What on earth is that?

It’s a thing run by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and created by its ancestors (RIP, News Leader). They combined a bunch of little Christmas funds to form one big one that gave toys and meals to needy families. Later on, the Salvation Army became the grantee, and it’s been that way ever since.

Untiiiiiiiillllllllll?

Until this year! For the 80th anniversary, the RTD has allowed applicants for grants, awarding 80 grants to 80 non-profits-that-need-grants. This way, the fund’s impact is more widely spread while also impacting lives of all kinds of people. That’s pretty neat!1 

How do you get to BE the Christmas Mother? Is there a pageant?

No, that is a ridiculous question. Traditionally, and whether intentionally or no, the Christmas Mother was the wife of a prominent business executive. She’d wave her hand, attend functions, and basically be a Fundraising Lady of the old sort. You don’t apply or anything, you just get asked, humbly, by the folks at the RTD.

Why does it have such a weird name?

I cannot answer that. But I hear that people 80 years ago were generally more stubborn about what a woman’s role could be. 

Can you talk more about Maya please? She seems like a rad lady.

She certainly is. From what I can remember, anyway. I drank some very strong tea before she showed up, and then I babbled at her at top speed about our kids, basketball (her husband’s the coach of some team or other), writing, and books. She gently brought me back to the matter at hand several times, from which I learned that she is a gracious and forgiving soul.

Maya is really, really into helping out kids and women, and she feels very strongly about children’s books. She’s into FRIENDS (the association for children, not the TV show2), on the board at the YWCA, and writes about things that matter on her own site. She doesn’t quite fit the usual RTD Christmas Mother profile–not being an older white lady on the arm of an older white CEO. And she went into the job determined to change the perception of the whole fund, both to raise awareness among a new audience (it worked, I now know about it) and to use her own connections to help the fund do another layer of good. 

For example, Maya didn’t want to just smile and wave at the Christmas Parade this year. Nope, she decked out a trolley in honor of her favorite children’s book, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, and used it as an opportunity to talk about her favorite cause, children’s literacy.

But the biggest draw for her this year was that the Christmas Mother fund hoped to galvanize givers by helping such a wide variety of grantees. “There are certain things everyone should be able to support and get behind,” says Maya, who buys a copy of the paper every morning to see the goal progress. “Like feeding hungry people, warm clothes for people who are cold, and assistance for families who are being affected by their children’s medical issues. The money’s going to benefit people who really need it across a wide variety of characteristics.”

Their goal of $275,000 will go towards organizations like the USO, which takes gifts to welcome soldiers passing through Richmond on their way home for the holidays. And then there’s ASK, the Childhood Cancer Foundation–they support families with sick kids, as does CJ’s Thumbs Up Foundation, who’s bringing holiday meals and helping with medical bill pay. 

And that’s just three. On Christmas Day, the RTD will publish the full list of 80. If the model is successful, they’ll continue it next year, she thinks.

On the day we spoke, the paper clocked the fund in around $72,000 ($124,427 at the time of publishing, just days later — Ed.). Maya assured me that was a good number. “The first couple of days when I looked at the totals, I was like ‘I…don’t know if we’re going to make it this year; maybe they should have gotten somebody who knew more people to ask.’ But they told me momentum would pick up, and it has.” 

Apparently a lot of people donate on Christmas Day, to which I say, “How on earth do you have time to do that?” but I say it while applauding them.

Maya’s been really pleased with the experience and feels like she’s learned a lot about the different types of help that Richmonders need. “Some people feel like the issues are so big that they can’t do anything to help. That’s why funds like this are important–because all the dollars come together to make a big difference and show people that they care.”

She has also learned, due to her many event appearances: “There are 85 million [cotillion] Holly Balls. I had no idea.”

Enough about Maya Smart. How do I donate?

There can never be enough about Maya Smart, but here’s how you can donate!

Go to 300 E. Franklin St, 23219 with a check made out to Richmond Christmas Mother fund or virtually travel to Richmond.com and do it all online

Maya also asks that you spread the word via social media. I suggest you comply. 


  1. Somewhere, the Salvation Army is smiling weakly. 
  2. Although I hope she’s into that too, because then maybe somebody will play all my trivia games with me. 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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