The Many Faces and Races of Santa Claus

Santa, Aubree-Jane Halladay

A man portraying Santa Claus talks to 6-month-old Aubree-Jane Halladay, of Scarborough, Maine, at a mall in South Portland, Maine. AP Photo

Santas Ethnicity

Paul Moore, left, dressed as Santa Claus, looks over a bag of toys with Dante Wright, 5, as Moore hands out holiday gifts to children at the Philadelphia Police Department’s 12th district station in Philadelphia. AP Photo

In Atlanta, children of many races share their Christmas wish lists with a black Santa Claus.

In Houston, Santa dons a red zoot suit and dances to jazz as he hands out gifts in Mexican-American neighborhoods.

In Indian Country, Native American Santas add American Indian attire to their red snowsuits, visiting shops and community centers from the pueblos of New Mexico to the reservations on the Pacific Northwest.

Santa Claus may be popularly known as a white-bearded benefactor with Dutch-English origins, but multiethnic versions of Santa are making the rounds out there too — illustrating that in an increasingly diverse United States, Santa takes on whatever color you imagine him to be.

“Kids don’t see color. They see a fat guy in a red suit giving toys,” said Dee Sinclair, 50, of Atlanta, who bills himself as the “Real Black Santa” and sports a very real, very white beard to prove it. He said in his 12 years of Santa-dom, he has posed with children and adults of all backgrounds during appearances at art centers, private parties and the occasional suburban Christmas tree lighting.

This holiday season, however, not all reactions to non-white Santas have been jolly.

Last week, a high school teacher in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, was disciplined, and apologized, for telling a black student who dressed as Santa Claus, “Don’t you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?” The teacher has since been placed on paid administrative leave.

Also last week, Fox News host Megyn Kelly sparked a heated debate when she declared on air, “And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white,” during a panel discussion about a blogger’s essay arguing that children of other races could feel alienated by constantly seeing Santa as white. Kelly later said her comments were motivated by humor, not “by any racial fear or loathing.”

That situation was promptly skewered by comics such as Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Kenan Thompson of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, who, clad in a full Santa suit and beard, joked about Kelly’s comments and quipped: “You heard of secret Santa? Well, here’s a secret for you: I’m black as hell!”

Richard Reyes, 62, of Houston, who has portrayed “Pancho Claus” for 32 years, found this year’s debate over Santa’s race surprising. He has seen Santa transformed into many images for years, he said; In his version, Pancho Claus has a goatee, and accessorizes his zoot suit with sunglasses and a fedora.

“For these diverse times, it’s important for children to see Santa in all these different forms,” Reyes said.

Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said depictions of Santa Claus as a white man came about mainly because he was a European import, a blend of the Dutch Sinterklaas and British folklore character Father Christmas, with elements of Saint Nicholas, a 4th-century Greek bishop in modern-day Turkey.

“But there is no reason he can’t be portrayed as black or Latino,” Chesnut said. “We live in the most pluralist, diverse society on earth and this is going to happen.”

Chesnut compared Santa’s evolution to that of La Virgen de Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. That image came from a black Virgin Mary from Spain who transformed into an indigenous icon in the Americas to relate to the population, he said.

Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, a mall in the center of black Los Angeles, has operated a diversity Santa program for more than 10 years, where two Santas — one black, one Latino — share time taking photos with families. “It’s been great,” said Rachel Erickson, the mall’s marketing director. “The Santas have developed relationships with families and they come back year after year.”

“(Santa Claus) reflects whatever region he resides. He belongs to everyone,” said Xavier Garza, author of “Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid,” a bilingual children’s book based on Santa Claus’ “Mexican cousin” along the Texas-Mexico border.

In Garza’s book, Charro Claus refuses to let “rain, wind or border fences” prevent him from delivering toys to kids in the Texas Rio Grande Valley. Magic dust transforms an old mariachi outfit into a gold-and-silver sequined marvel and old burros into lucha libre-masked Flying Burritos to help Charro Claus deliver toys.

The short film and book “The Native American Night Before Christmas” by Gary Robinson has “Old Red Shirt,” or the American Indian Santa Claus, visiting children with a team of flying white buffalo to deliver commodities, fry bread and other goodies.

“As with Jesus, cultures adopt images that apply to them,” said Robinson, who lives on the Santa Ynez Reservation in California. “So it’s totally appropriate that we do it with Santa.”

Associated Press

Related posts

How to Accessorise your New Year Party Look

How to Accessorise your New Year Party Look

Accessorising your party look is as important as choosing the right attire for any party. For New Year's eve, be a show-stealer, says designer Pawan Sachdeva, who suggests must-haves for men and women. "It is important to focus on accessories also when one is planning a party as it not only...

Plan Warm, Pocket-Friendly New Year’s Eve

Plan Warm, Pocket-Friendly New Year's Eve

If burning a hole in your pocket at lavish parties with deafening music and a packed crowd of strangers is not your perfect idea of a New Year's Eve bash, how about cosying up in the comfort of your house in the company of close friends and family? Make it special with a bonfire or barbecue or...

World’s Bizzare New Year’s Eve Customs

World's Bizzare New Year's Eve Customs

A city in central Chile, where locals gather each New Year's Eve in the town cemetery to welcome the coming year in the company of dead relatives, has topped the list of the strangest such customs in a global poll. The poll was conducted by Badoo, an online social networking platform for...

Have a Wonderful New Year 2014

Have a Wonderful New Year 2014

mulberry sale cheap ray ban sunglasses sac hermes cheap toms shoes chaussure louboutin <a href="karen millen uk louboutin chaussures <a href="cheap ray bans kids timberland boots <a href="karen millen dresses uk

Times Square Preparations for New Year’s Eve Bash

Times Square Preparations for New Year's Eve Bash

New York City's Times Square is getting ready for New Year's Eve. The square will host millions Tuesday night counting down the last few moments of 2013. Starting Saturday, six Citibikes from the city's bike share program were being installed in Times Square and connected to 12-volt deep cycle...

Christmas Tree of Bottles Sparkles in Lithuania

Christmas Tree of Bottles Sparkles in Lithuania

Here's a recycling project just for the holidays: A 4-meter (13.2-feet) tall Christmas tree made of 1,100 empty bottles of champagne and sparkling water. Lithuanian policeman Dalius Valukonis says he spent three years and hundreds of hours of his free time to create the tree using bottles he...

Sudarsan's 35-feet-high Sand Jesus Eyes Limca Glory

Internationally acclaimed sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik Tuesday created a sculpture of Jesus Christ on the beach of Puri, his home town in Odisha, on the eve of Christmas. He said the sculpture, 35 feet high and 75 feet wide, was made after informing officials of the Limca Book of Records and...

Crowds Gather in Bethlehem for Christmas

Large crowds have begun to gather in the biblical town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations. Hundreds of tourists packed the town's Manger Square to enjoy the cool, sunny weather ahead of celebrations on Tuesday evening. The nearby Church of the Nativity sits on the spot where tradition...

Holiday Lights: New Views of Saturn and Its Moons

Holiday Lights: New Views of Saturn and Its Moons

A NASA spacecraft has sent holiday greetings from the outer solar system. The space agency on Monday released dazzling new images of the ringed planet Saturn and its moons. The Cassini spacecraft took the pictures earlier this year. Saturn resembled an ornament in one image, with a jet stream...

Astronauts Make Rare Christmas Eve Spacewalk

Astronauts Make Rare Christmas Eve Spacewalk

Two space station astronauts have floated outside on Christmas Eve in hopes of finishing urgent cooling system repairs. It's only the second Christmas Eve spacewalk in NASA history. The first was 14 years ago. And it's the second spacewalk in four days for U.S. astronauts Rick Mastracchio and...