Black Santa: Santas of Color are No Longer Novel

Writing for MPR News, Riham Feshir discusses the great demand for Santas of color in the United States. The article highlights Santa Larry who can be found at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. In the article, Larry Jefferson who dons the red suit for Mall of America says the demand for Santa Larry was so high this year, he began taking appointments for photos back in October. Black Santa is not new to black America, but the warm reception or willingness of diverse groups of people to demand or acknowledge Black Santa in mainstream spaces is relatively new. Even though Jefferson, who is the first African-American Santa at Mall of America, was met with mostly positive responses, there was some negative feedback to such an extent the Star Tribune turned off the comments section on their story about Jefferson due to hateful comments:

Feshir writes:

The image of a white man portraying Santa has been implanted in most minds for decades. It was illustrated by political cartoonist Thomas Nast based on his imagination of the 19th-century poem “The Night Before Christmas.”

Maria Tatar, a professor of folklore at Harvard University, says Santa was never a monolithic figure, and there are genial figures associated with modern-day Santa Claus — like Ghost of Christmas Past and Father Christmas. 

Until recently, when one of her students gave her a children’s book titled “Santa’s Husband,” which is a story about a black and white gay couple.

‘The great thing about the myths and of folktales and all of our cultural stories is that we keep making them new,’ she said. ‘If we told the same old story over and over again the tale would shrivel up and die. It would become completely uninteresting to us.’

The characteristic generosity, however, comes from Saint Nicholas, the Greek bishop from modern-day Turkey. In available images, he has olive skin and brown eyes.

‘He kind of looks like me,’ Jefferson said with a smile. ‘Someone posted a picture of Saint Nicholas and my picture side by side, and was like, ‘Santa Larry, you look more like Saint Nicholas than anybody.'”

Black Santa is not new to African-American communities, particularly in the South. For example, in 1994 Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta, GA introduced their first black Santa Willie Veal, who dressed as Santa for 19 years until his passing in 2013. Santa Eddie (Eddie Simpson), who is also African-American, has dressed as Santa for the last five years at Greenbriar Mall. Facebook and Instagram are teeming with photos of African-American children sitting on the laps of black Santa covering several decades. Black Santas can be found in major cities throughout the country like New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Seattle and Washington, DC.

Although Black Santa is no secret to black communities in America, there is a secret history to black Santas. Brian Wheeler of the BBC takes readers on a historical journey which begins with St. Nicholas in Turkey and chronicles other instances of a black St. Nick including U.S. presidential celebrations (Woodrow Wilson’s honeymoon in Virginia) and what Wheeler calls a breakthrough for black Santas when tap dancing legend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who became Harlem’s “first negro Santa Claus” at an annual Christmas Eve party for underprivileged children in 1936.

Read Feshir’s entire article at MPR News.

If you’re looking for a Black Santa, News One has created a map to help you find him. Click here.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Instagram or Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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