• Aliya

Santa is Black


My daughter, Avery, hugging a black santa figurine we put out every Christmas

Every now and then, there is some mall that hires a black Santa and the then inevitable protest from local families who insist that “No, I’m not racist. But Santa is white. Everyone knows that.” And they do this with a serious face, I assume. And they’re not being sarcastic. They’re serious. Seriously.


The thing about Santa, grown men and women, is that he isn’t real. I would think that you know this, considering gifts haven’t been magically appearing under your Christmas trees in your adult life. (If they have, you may want to change your locks).


Arguing the race of a fictional character that's largely geared toward children is tantamount to arguing the breeds of the Paw Patrol dogs: what's the point? But, ever since I was a little kid, playing Christmas carols on the piano with my mom and untangling piles of lights to adorn the tree, I have considered Santa to be a pick-your-ethnicity kind of guy. He could be whatever you wanted him to be.


In my house, Santa was always black. When the Christmas season rolled around and my mom started unpacking the decorations, all of her Santa Claus figurines – and Mrs. Claus, too – had brown skin. From the small figurines in the upstairs hallway, to the larger robotic Santa in the downstairs fireplace that slowly waved his fake candle back and forth, they all looked like me.


I don’t know where my mom found all these black Santas, but I do know where she found her inspiration. Her parents, Estelle and Frank, had the same dedication to displaying black Santas, so whether I was at home in California for the holidays, or in their neck of the woods in Kentucky, I was surrounded by the same message: Santa can be black, too.


I say “too” because obviously, we didn’t live in a bubble. My mom knew that once I ventured to the mall, turned on the TV, or filled out cards at school for my classmates, that I would be bombarded with imagery showing Santa as a white man. I recognize now that their dedication to decoration was not to exclude any other race, but to show me and my brothers that this larger than life figure could also look like he was a part of our family. And in a smaller way, showing us that no matter how the outside world tries to pigeonhole certain people into certain roles, we were free to explore the world and be what we wanted.


Doctor? Sure. Ice skater? Of course. Soccer player? Do it! I never let the fact that I didn’t see people like me doing something stop me from doing it. When I started playing soccer, I was the only black girl on the team. It wasn’t until years later, in junior high school I think, when a friend asked “you play soccer? But you’re black, right?” that I even gave it any thought. And I’d like to think that Black Santa had something to do with that.


(If you're interested in the origins of black Santa Claus, check out this story.)

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"The rose is without an explanation. She blooms, because she blooms."

- Angelus Silesius

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