Actor, author, and World Vision supporter Kristoffer Polaha is bringing his trademark authenticity to new causes that connect people near and far. This year, he designed a handcrafted gift for the World Vision Gift Catalog, available with a donation to the World Vision Fund that empowers kids and families to rise out of poverty.
Kristoffer’s also taken to social media in new ways, where he’s created a vibrant community online. As he wrestled through his — and society’s — relationship with social media, he realized his engagement with the various platforms needed to come from a more personal place. Despite the pressure of being a celebrity figure who’s expected to amass followers, Kristoffer is choosing honest connection with people.
He explains, “The pandemic catalyzed in me this need to reach out. It was like a lightning rod. I was sitting there alone with social media, and I was trying to find out what my relationship is with it. The fear of dying put in me this desire to reach out and talk to people, which ultimately turned into this community: I call it the Polaha Chautauqua. My son and I came up with a little theme song, so it starts with this random Woody Guthrie–style song. I invite people to come onto the show. It’s an hour long every Sunday at 4 p.m. on Instagram Live.
“And people just talk. They tell their stories. All are welcome. It’s really about what it means to be alive, particularly in the face of death, and what we do with the time we’re given. Often we’ll evoke the Christian narrative because it’s a really powerful place to start, morally, but then we move away, and we just talk about life. It’s a cool place to gather and celebrate the fact that we have breath in our lungs.”
We recently sat down with Kristoffer to chat more about the community he’s creating through his family, his work, and his partnership with World Vision.
What are you looking forward to this holiday season, maybe something that you missed out on last year?
Last year I missed seeing my parents for Christmas. So this year I’m very excited to spend the holidays with them. They live in Reno, Nevada, which isn’t that far away from Los Angeles, but with COVID-19 it was so hard. No one was traveling, so it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to celebrate the holidays with my parents. Last year was a strange Christmas. I think people are going to be very excited to see the people they didn’t get to see and do the things they didn’t get to last year. It will be nice to hopefully get back to normal.
Speaking of last year, how did you spend your time as a family during the pandemic?
We tried to figure out new ways to entertain ourselves, and we discovered something about our family: We are not a board game family. My wife was like, “Why don’t we build a puzzle?” And then all of a sudden there was all five of us around a table, each one had a corner, and we just kept building puzzles. We are a puzzle family!
We also did film school with my kids. They’re at an age where I can show them films that they couldn’t have watched when they were littler. They would finish their school and then every night we would break down a film from the ’70s or such. It was legitimately a film school to educate them on the history of cinema.
Back to Christmas: What’s your favorite family holiday tradition?
Here’s the story of our favorite holiday tradition. It started with my wife’s great-grandfather, this guy named Tricky, in Florida. I don’t know if you know this, but if you see Santa Claus deliver presents, then he makes this pact: Because you know he’s real, he’ll always hand-deliver gifts to you.
So, Tricky happened to see Santa Claus, and Tricky made the deal with Santa Claus that he’d get the presents forevermore. Tricky did this with his kids and then Julianne, my wife’s mom, did it. Santa Claus comes to the house on Christmas Eve. He shows up, hands out a couple gifts, and bails. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Santa Claus. He’s very shy. He doesn’t talk. He’s like a little elf — he just scurries up, drops off some gifts, does a little wave, maybe he’ll take a picture, and then he’s gone. It’s kind of amazing. Happens every year.
How does your faith influence how you approach the Christmas season?
My faith completely dictates how we appreciate the Christmas season. My family is Christian, so that means we’re celebrating baby Jesus’ birth on Christmas. For us, it’s less about the candy canes and all that stuff, and it’s more about going to church. Christ is the center of the holiday for us.
What do you love most about the Christmas season and why?
One thing is the spirit of Christmas where everyone feels happier, more joyful. They’re kinder to one another. I like how people are singing songs and are just a little merrier.
I love the idea that 2,000 years ago this baby was born in the desert in the dead of night, and in that moment, technically and literally, the whole world changed, and once a year we’re reminded to go back to that mentality. I love that we get this annual reset of mind and focus.
To choose joy is to allow yourself to be fully impacted by the Christian narrative. If you can truly unpack how profound that narrative is, then you’re left with no other choice but to choose kindness, goodness, joy, love, peace, and faithfulness.
I love Christmas so much because it’s the season when the days are darkest and it’s cold. There’s no light but then, all of a sudden, we’re reminding ourselves that there’s a light beyond all of that — that’s joy.
How do you stay grounded on what matters most during the busyness of the holiday season?
Christmastime becomes so busy and manic. Everybody is worried about the gifts they’re going to buy. If you can stay true to what the reality of the season is — if you can remember that it’s about Jesus, this baby who was born and the life that he lived, which is truly about kingdom living, bringing heaven on earth, loving one another, and being present with one another — then you stay pretty grounded.
When you’re frustrated because the teller’s got five people in front of you, if you can just take a deep breath and try to love people like Christ loves people and see them through God’s eyes, it’s a good test if you can do that for about two weeks in December. And then next year maybe it’s three weeks. And then the year after that maybe it’s a whole month. And then before you know it, maybe you can be doing that every day of the year, which would be amazing.
What first made you interested in working with World Vision?
I was invited to join World Vision, and I had already heard about it from Meghan Markle. I know that she had gone to Africa, and she had mentioned that she’d worked with World Vision. I thought it seemed like a cool organization. So when I got this call, I hopped online, and I saw everything that they’re doing on a global level. It’s truly mind-blowing.
I was honored and totally overwhelmed that they asked if I would contribute to promoting their organization. I’m supposed to go to Kenya, or on a couple of trips, but COVID-19 hit right as that happened. I’m still waiting to see the work they’re doing in person.
You started learning about the Global 6K for Water that we do, right? I heard you created your own team.
Yes! World Vision has an annual 6K, and we’ve done it twice now. The first year it was my wife and our three kids, and we had a little team. It was humbling — we did okay. This year, though, I went online to the Polaha Chautauqua, an amazing group of people. (If you’re a part of it, so grateful to have you a part of this community.) We raised over $10,000 in two weeks.
Six kilometers is the average distance many young girls and women in the developing world have to walk for water. In America, we take clean water for granted. You turn the tap on, and you get your water — but they don’t have that. It prohibits them from getting an education, and it’s also dangerous because they’re getting sick from the water. If you can equip people with clean water, the entire economy and the landscape of these countries will change. It’s an important thing to be a part of.
Why should people get involved with World Vision this year?
It’s one of the easiest ways possible to give back and to do good in the world. If you go through their Gift Catalog that comes out every year, you can make a donation and get something cool like these bracelets that I helped design. And that donation helps fund World Vision’s programs. It’s a simple way to put your dollars and your time and your energy into something really awesome that’s changing the world for good.
What made you want to help design a handcrafted gift this year?
With COVID-19 my wife and I were at home, and we had all this time, and the team at World Vision was so awesome to work with. They were like, “What do you want to do?” And I said, “Well, I see you have a lot of stuff for women, but there’s not a lot of stuff for guys in the catalog. And maybe it would be cool to have something that wives can buy their husbands.” My wife and I started talking, and our initial idea was a sweater, but sourcing the wool got hard because of COVID-19.
But my wife was like, “Why don’t we do bracelets, something that men and women can wear and then, if you have them, they can be for your kids?” It was a really cool creative process to sit down with my wife and then the World Vision team and spitball all these ideas. So we got these bracelets, which we’re really proud of, and I think they’re cool. And to know that there are artisans in India actually making the bracelets is really cool. It’s a whole process that’s really exciting to be a part of.
Why does your handcrafted gift make a good gift this holiday season, especially coming out of the pandemic?
Especially coming out of the pandemic, these bracelets would be an awesome gift because, first of all, there’s three in one. You buy a little bundle. So, you can keep them all for yourself, or you can give them away to your friends or family. Men or women can wear them. We designed them so that children can wear them. You get three of them which can be like father, sons, and friends. I also like the idea that they could represent the Trinity. I love this idea of three, and the colors are cool.
And then, when you give this gift, you’re supporting people around the world to rise out of poverty into sustainability. Since COVID-19 hit the whole world, the fact that you can have an impact globally by making a donation here in the States is pretty awesome.
Donations from your handcrafted gift go to the World Vision Fund, helping empower people to rise out of poverty for good. What do you hope people think about when they wear these bracelets?
I like the idea that you can choose joy. You can choose love. You can choose faith — this concept of kingdom living. I want you to look down at your wrist and see a reminder of how to behave, to keep yourself pure or to go through the world trying to bring the kingdom here on earth. It’s super cool to know that you’ve gotten something that almost has this spiritual attachment to it. That’s what I’m hoping for when people wear these bracelets: that it will be a little reminder.
When you’re walking through the mall, and you’ve got some dope bling on your wrist, it’s hard not to be joyful because you look good, and you feel good. And when you look good and you feel good, you act good.
Why should people give these bracelets to somebody else?
There’s something fun about being able to share your gift when it’s not something so precious that you don’t want to give it away. These are almost intended to be worn to give away. You’re getting three bracelets in one package. You can get a bunch and just keep handing them out. You can have these around your wrist, and if you meet somebody, it’s so simple to take one off, hand it to somebody, and share this love.
I’ve got a great story about this. Tim Tebow is someone my son looks up to, and we actually had a chance to meet him very randomly. Tim Tebow had a couple bracelets on his wrist, and he just opened one up and gave it to my kid. Caleb cherished that thing.
Can you tell us about something cool that’s going on in your career? What else have you been working on that’s coming out around the holidays?
If you don’t know this, I have ventured into writing. My second book, called Where the Sun Rises, will hit bookshelves on March 29. Be sure to pick up a copy of that! And then, if you haven’t yet, buy Moments Like This — it’s already out. And then this summer, get ready: June 2022, Jurassic World Dominion. It’s going to be a big movie; you’re going to love it. So, check that out!
This interview has been edited and condensed for length. Elisabeth Rickard of World Vision’s U.S. office contributed to this story.