To have a Black or White Santa…that is an issue!

5176 Guess Whooo's coming to town! (Number 1) ...
Image by bsabarnowl via Flickr

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Santa, Saint Nick, or even Kris Kringle, is a figure which was derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, a legendary figure who in  Western cultures is shown to bring gifts to good little boys and girls during the late hours of Christmas Eve, December 24.  Today’s Santa Claus is seen wearing a red coat with a white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and a black leather belt and boots – while the original Saint Nicholas was created to wear bishop’s robes.  But while there are distinctions with the Santa Claus of the past, there is one very distinct aspect that is overlooked in today’s society.  When looking at the race of a child, the color of Santa Claus plays a very special part in the child’s life.


The media well promotes Santa in the form of a stoutly white man with a white beard.  He is even jolly with rosy cheeks.  And, before he speaks, there is a hearty, “Ho Ho Ho” that precedes “Merry Christmas.” This is the Santa Claus that every boy and girl, whether they are good or bad, sees during the holiday.  The Santa Claus the media promotes welcomes children to come to him and sit on his knee and tell him whether they’ve been bad or good and reveal what they would like for Santa to bring them for Christmas. The aesthetics of sitting on Santa’s knee relieves the parents of having their children realize that it is really the parents adding their gifts under the Christmas tree.  Santa is like the grandfather who can ride on a sleigh pulled by his mighty reindeer and aided by his elves.  This is the Santa of the suburbs.  The suburbs show everything in a sparkly light with mechanical toys and boxes wrapped as if they are real gifts.  Santa adds to the effect by being entrusted with the kids deepest Christmas wishes.  While many children find it an honor to sit on Santa’s knee, there is the occasional youngster who finds the old and white-haired man frightening.

The Santa of the suburbs is viewed as being in high demand.
When kids go to see him, they pretty much know that this Santa is going
to make their dreams come true.  No matter how fantastic or far-fetched their wishes are, the suburb Santa or the “White” Santa has a way of assuring children that if they remain good little boys and girls, they will get a big surprise when they awaken on Christmas
morning.  As an even better memento or proof of Santa’s powers, the children have a photo to show their relatives and friends.  Another proud aspect of the
“White” Santa is the flexibility of Santa. Santa appears to be everywhere the children go in the suburbs during holiday time.  Santa even appears at church where they are told God exists. This act reinforces the suburban or middle class child’s belief that
Santa is real and cares about them.  The more they see Santa during this joyous season, the better the children feel about themselves.  Television even broadens the child’s belief that “White” Santa will be there for them on Christmas Day.  As many white children
may know that it is their fathers or uncles or even their grandfathers playing
Santa, just the fact that the portrayal of Santa is present makes all the difference.

Poor children of color still see Santa.  They see a Santa
of color.  As poverty is depicted as the hood or the ghetto, poor is poor.  And
Santa only comes in one color when they can find him.  At many a shopping mall in the lower-income areas, with a predominantly Black or non-White occupancy, a Black Santa can be found holding children on his knee.  This is often the case due to the parent’s desire to have their child aware of a different Santa or it could just be that the cost of employing a White Santa could not be justified.  Although the White Santa is seen on billboards, print ads, television and even in more affluent shopping areas, the cost for sitting on that Santa’s knee is more than the parents can afford.  Also, although a
Black Santa would be closer to their own color, the children appear either
confused or frightened to death to be in this figure’s presence.  Yes, babies cry all the time, whether they are Black or White.  But when one particular visual is constantly shown to you, you believe this to be the accepted version.

In the ghetto, with the rate of single-parent households being greater than that of the
suburban or middle class, the chance of Santa Claus being seen at church is so close to never until the child doesn’t even imagine seeing him.  Unlike in the suburban or middle-class areas, children in the ghetto or the hood are instructed to tell Santa of more
realistic desires for Christmas.

Another comparison to make between the Santa Claus in suburbia and the Santa Claus in the hood, is with the music.  When a child hears, “White Christmas” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” or even “Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer” it isn’t difficult to imagine the standard portrait of a White Santa Claus.  However, when a child of color, in the ghetto, hears RUN DMC sing, “Christmas Rap (Christmas in Hollis),” or Kurtis Blow sing “Christmas Rappin,” they picture a Santa in poverty just like themselves.

Many can say that it is the fault of the people in the hood or the ghetto to not have their Santa Claus measure up to the media’s standard depiction of Santa Claus.  As both cultures fight to be seen and heard, as Santa Claus was a created figure, why can’t the media show Santa Claus in a different light?  When a child sees the standard, White, Santa Claus, he or she sees class or status – a sense of belonging to a society that is right.
While Santa Claus is seen in a different or darker light, it is a message that poverty is in the house.

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