Is there room for more than one Santa?
Have you ever thought about the race of Santa Claus? What ethnicity is your Santa?
First of all, the jolly, red-nosed white man and bearer of Christmas gifts is a fictional North American character. The Santa Claus legend can be traced to St. Nicholas, a Christian monk, who lived in the fourth century. Over time, many stories and legends circled the earth about St. Nicholas’ good deeds. But recently, another controversy brewed. What color was the skin of St. Nicholas? Google info on the documentary, The Real Face of Santa, and you decide.
Let’s converse about the history of the black Santa. Brian Wheeler of BBC News penned an article about the secret history of black Santas. In 1919, a story about the “the first negro Santa ever put on the streets of any city” was printed in the Pittsburg Daily Post. In 1943, a department store in Harlem hired its first black Santa. In the 1970’s a few department stores began to hire black Santas. Macy’s department store in New York has featured a black Santa for several years, but he is located far away from the white Santa. Because children believe in only one Santa Claus, putting a black one and a white one together would ruin the myth that Santa is real. That’s Macy’s explanation.
Fast forward to now. In 2016, the Mall of America in Minnesota hired its first black Santa. An online backlash from adults ensued over a black Santa at the mall, but the children voiced no objections.
What do children think about the color of Santa? NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (2009) reviewed the following study. In 1996, a professor from Ohio State University observed two first-grade classes with a total of 33 children with two thirds being white and the remaining kids being black or of mixed race. The notion of a black Santa was introduced when the teachers read the Afrocentric version of ‘Twas the Night B’fore Christmas. The white children reacted in disbelief. The black children reacted with excitement. Some children agreed that Santa was a mixture of black and white while others concluded the black Santa was only a helper to a white Santa. Later, a black Santa visited the classrooms. Some white children rejected Santa as black and some accepted him. Most black children accepted Santa as black but one black child questioned his authenticity. When the teachers asked the children to draw Santa, all children drew him with white skin. Children are influenced by the dominant white culture.
Will you make room for the possibility of an African-American Santa, a Hispanic Santa, an Asian Santa, a Native American Santa or a Santa of any other color besides Caucasian?
Should each race only portray a Santa with the same skin color?
I hope this article sparks peaceful conversations about diversity and race. I exclaim, “Merry Christmas to children and Santas of all skin colors and to all, a good night.”
Melissa Martin is an author of a children’s picture book which features a multiracial family. View her website at www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com. She resides in Ohio.