VIEW VIDEO I was browsing through a book recently and saw a picture of a Black Santa Claus, which seemed unusual, since all the Santa’s I’ve ever known were white as chalk. Technically, since Santa isn’t real, he could be any color, or a she for that matter, but whenever I think of Santa, I think white, male, old and jolly. Unless it’s a Santa in a discount store, then I think wino and a white beard stained yellow with nicotine. Nevertheless, I’m all in favor of Black Santas and apparently so is Disney, who just this past year, for the first time, had Black Santa’s at their theme parks, even though they got nasty emails from grinches who said Santa should be white. I hope the grinches got coal for Christmas.
When I was a kid, and again when my own children were small, my father would hire Santa to appear at my parent’s house on Christmas Eve. It was the same Santa every year, though I never learned his identity, just that every yuletide his nose grew more veiny, red, and bulbous, a drinker’s nose, accompanied with a smoker’s hack. He would stay no longer than fifteen minutes, and rather than asking the children what they wanted, would dole out advice, counseling against marriage (“They end up breaking up your heart and taking all your money.”) and voting for Democrats (“They end up breaking your heart and taking all your money.”). I was well into my adult years before realizing Santa wasn’t supposed to smell like Jack Daniels and cry.
Let’s be honest, old, white males have lately fallen out of favor, even the jolly ones, so I’m more than willing for Santa to be Black in hopes of boosting the Santa brand. A black Santa with a James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman vibe, or maybe a Denzel Washington-type for those mothers who want to sit on Santa’s lap. Last Christmas, I would have floated Will Smith as Santa, but then he clobbered Chris Rock at the Oscars, and once you do that, you can’t pull on a red suit and pretend nothing has changed.
After seeing the picture of a Black Santa, it occurred to me how odd it must have felt for a Black child, born when I was, to sit on a white man’s lap and expect anything good to come of it. If I were a Black child in the 1960s, you couldn’t have paid me to sit on a white Santa’s lap. Do you remember all the pictures from the 1950s and 60s of children waiting in line to see Santa? None of those kids were Black. Trust me on this, I Googled it. Black children don’t appear in department store Santa lines until the 1970s and 80s.
While we’re re-imagining Santa, let’s open the door to women Santas. No more Mrs. Claus looking timidly on from the sidelines. Let’s bring her front and center. Surely some woman out there has a red nose and smells like Jack Daniels. Let’s ditch the elves while we’re at it. I haven’t yet seen an elf that didn’t look a little creepy in their skintight leotards and pointy hats. Elves are people who can’t get a job anywhere else.
Another reason I’m eager to open the field to Black Santas is because I have been poorly served by white Santa’s. Growing up, I never, not once, got anything I had ever asked for from Santa. When I was six, I was taken to see Santa at the Danner’s 5&10 in Danville. It turned out to be Vern Gibson, the store manager, though I didn’t realize that at the time. Anyway, I sat on his lap and asked for a bicycle but got school shoes instead. That same year, my brother Doug asked for a football and got a pineapple. A pineapple! What the heck?
I was annoyed with Santa for most of my life, until last year when I saw him at a store, chatting with a bevy of deaf children using sign language. Balancing them one at a time on his lap, no doubt promising them the moon, though it appeared from their smiles they’d already gotten it. I stopped and watched. Just the day before I had asked Santa for a little more love in the world, and here it was, right in front of me. Sixty-one years I’ve been waiting for Santa to bring me what I asked for, and he finally delivered.