Why We Always Visit Black Santa

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Why We Always Visit Black Santa

Rachel Garlinghouse

The same question comes about every Christmas season.

One of my four kids, while hanging an ornament on the tree or opening her advent calendar, will ask, “Mom, is Santa pink or brown?”

My children, all of whom are black, are primarily exposed to white Santas when they are outside of our home. Most books, Christmas cards, holiday advertisements, and mall Santas have milky-peach skin and piercing blue eyes.  Even the classic Christmas movies such as Miracle on 34thStreet, Elf, and Home Alone all feature Jolly Old St. Nick in all his pale glory.

But in our home, Santa is black.  Because my kids are black.

Now before you lecture me on how Santa was a real person (aka St. Nicholas) who was most definitely white, please listen.

Representation matters.

I remember my oldest daughter, just six months old, who couldn’t get enough face to face time with my friend, a young Guatemalan woman. There was not a single person my daughter would gaze more upon than my friend. It was that same year that I read about studies citing children as young as my infant could distinguish race. There was something about my friend’s caramel-colored skin and deep brown eyes that intrigued my daughter.

When my daughter was a toddler, she loved pointing out strangers who looked like her. “She’s brown like me!” my daughter would exclaim when seeing a black woman at the grocery store. And I’ll never forget when my daughter owned her blackness, telling other children playing alongside her at the library train table, “I’m brown!”

It’s a decade later, and we have four children, all of whom are black. They are proud of the rich melanin in their skin, the shade of their eyes, and the curl in their hair. They can drop facts about well-known people of color (Misty Copeland is from Kansas City, where my children were born), educate you on Juneteenth, and tell you that, yes, in fact, Santa is black. (Oh, and in case you didn’t know, the likelihood Jesus was white is about zero.)

We have taught our children the history of Santa. How today’s Santa goes by many different names (Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, etc.) and is celebrated by children all over the world in their own traditional ways. Our kids know that all the Santas they see today are representations of the first Santa. But these things do not change who our Santa is.

Representation matters, everywhere and all the time. And Christmas is no exception.

This past weekend, we visited Santa. We were the very first people in a quickly growing line. Santa strolled into the room, and the waiting families quieted down and followed him with their eyes. He was carrying a cup of coffee from a local shop, and just as he was about to sit down in a velvet upholstered chair, he said, “Hang on!  I’ll be right back!” and slipped behind a partition to text his wife. His forgetfulness to contact his wife built even more anticipation among the kids.

When he reappeared, my children slowly stepped forward to approach the guy who carries a lot of power and prestige. They warmed up enough to take a few pictures after Santa’s cheery demeanor enamored them. He wasn’t the “ho ho ho” kind of Santa, and in fact, they didn’t even discuss gifts. The entire interaction was about just that — interaction.

The visit came and went quickly, but it was nevertheless memorable.

My husband and I intentionally chose to take our children to see a Black Santa, because we didn’t want our children to gaze upon another fancy white guy in charge of really important things. Instead, they got to hang with a chill, melanin-poppin’ Santa who sipped coffee, texted his wife, and charmed them with silly magic tricks to bestow upon them a coveted chocolate coin. A Santa who looked like them.

As I urged my children to follow me and allow the next kids a turn, my five-year-old son turned and embraced Santa. And luckily, I captured the beautiful moment when brown arms were wrapped around brown arms.

So again this holiday season, when one of my children asks me if Santa is pink or brown, without hesitation, I tell them with a smile that Santa is most definitely black.