Conservative Republicans are hopping mad this month over reports that Santa Claus might not actually be a white man.
Putting aside for a moment the fact that Santa is not a man at all – everyone knows Santa is immortal – the entire affair got rolling when Aisha Harris wrote a piece for Slate arguing that perhaps we should no longer portray Santa as a white guy.
And she has a point. I could imagine Asian and black kids, among others, looking at a white Santa and figuring out quite quickly that St. Nick doesn’t quite look like them.
As Harris explains, they actually had a black Santa in her home, but she clued in quickly to the fact that everywhere else she went Santa was white, so her “black” Santa was likely the impostor.
That’s an odd thing for a kid to be forced to deal with. And it’s something white kids clearly don’t.
It’s similar to the argument over whether Jewish kids (or atheist kids, for that matter) should be forced to sign Christmas carols in school.
I’m not a fan of killing Christmas pageants – as I don’t buy Christmas as an exclusively religious holiday, regardless of its origins (and even then, its origins are arguably pagan anyway). It is a major holiday in this country, and there’s nothing wrong with having kids celebrate it, along with Hanukkah and Ramadan and all the rest.
Let the kids get a multicultural experience, and mom and dad can tell them later which one is going to hell. But the point is, keep things multicultural.
Back to Santa
As for jolly old St. Nick no longer being white, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly was having none of it:
“When I saw this headline, I kinda laughed and I said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa.’ And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids.”
Nice. The easy thing to do would have been to tell kids that Santa is everything to everyone. But no, Fox had to make sure that every black, brown, and yellow kid in America felt just a tad more alienated than they might have felt before. (Kelly only dug herself in deeper with her defense of her comments.)
Jon Stewart weighed in on Kelly’s remarks – classic:
Conservative Republican talk show host Neal Boortz weighed in as well:
“I’m sorry, Santa Claus is white, okay – deal with it,” Boortz said on his radio show, subbing for Herman Cain. “I’m gonna scream and complain because Martin Luther King is always portrayed as black.”
Santa doesn’t speak Spanish
Of course, the very notion of “Santa” is a hotly debated topic. The Dutch, for example, think that Santa lives in Spain, but is actually from Turkey.
And while the Dutch depict Santa as a white guy, Santa’s helpers are all black – an issue that’s caused a bit of a growing uproar in recent years, as the black helpers seem to always be white people in blackface. Not to mention the fact that Santa’s blackfaced helpers in Holland, so the tale goes, threaten to beat bad children up and then kidnap them.
Humorist David Sedaris has a classic riff on the Dutch Santa that we post every Christmas. It’s comedy gold. If you’ve never listened to it, do – you’re in for a treat. Here’s Sedaris on the issue of Santa’s origins:
Unlike the jolly obese American Santa, [Holland's] Saint Nicholas is painfully thin, and dresses not unlike the Pope. Topping his robes with a tall hat, resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carry-over from his former career, when he served as the Bishop of Turkey.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But, could you repeat that?”
One doesn’t want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me.
For starters, Santa didn’t “used to do” anything. He’s not retired, and more importantly, he has nothing to do with Turkey. It’s too dangerous there, and the people wouldn’t appreciate him.
When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that St. Nicholas currently resides in Spain – which again, is simply not true.
While he could probably live wherever he wanted, St. Nicholas chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn’t have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain. And in that outfit, he’d most certainly be recognized.
On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn’t speak Spanish. “Hello, how are you, can I get you some candy?” – fine, he knows enough to get by. But he’s not fluent, and certainly doesn’t eat tapas….
“Helpers?”, I said. “Does he have any elves?”
Maybe I’m just overly sensitive, but I couldn’t help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. “Elves,” he said, “they’re just so silly.”
The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that St. Nicholas travels with what is consistently described as “six to eight black men…”
You seriously have to listen to the entire thing. It’s 20 minutes of brutal hysteria.
Of course, this origin story is my personal favorite: