Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Friday, October 21, 2016

Many of us who grew up believing in Santa Claus can recall that moment when we started having our doubts.

If we were lucky, we had a special someone in our lives willing to quash the ugly rumors for a little bit longer.

That was my mother. She had her reasons. She was only 8 when her parents divorced and handed her off to grandparents, who raised her. She faced hard realities at a young age. After she became a mother, she saw it as her maternal mission to wring out every bit of life’s magic for her four children.

My mother had a gift for the alternative narrative. This came in handy when, at age 7, it dawned on me that Santa was a little too ubiquitous in Ashtabula, Ohio.

How could Santa be at Hills Department Store, J.C. Penney and Kmart on the same day? That was what I wanted to know.

My mother laid out the facts with the expertise of someone who’d just had that very conversation with Santa’s missus.

I was right, she said, to suspect that Santa could not be everywhere. The brilliant Mrs. Claus — in Mom’s stories, the wife was the genius in every marriage — came up with the idea to hire some of the elves to fill in for him. They had photographic memories, Mom further explained, so they were able to pass along to Santa the wishes of every single child who sat on their laps.

Whew. She was good.

I met my first black Santa at our fourth-grade Christmas party, in 1966. He looked suspiciously like my classmate’s father, which I duly noted to the clueless child, in front of my mother. The little girl burst into tears, and I was grounded for a week, which gave me plenty of time to ponder the wisdom of an unexpressed thought.

In the spirit of Christmas, I want to thank Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly for stirring up that memory after she insisted last week on her show that Santa is white, and so was Jesus.

Well, let’s talk about Jesus. He was a Jew who lived 2,000 years ago in the Middle East. The odds that he was white are about as good as my chance of waking up as a natural blonde tomorrow.

Some have defended her, saying this was the version of Jesus she knew as a child. I get that, but we’re living in the grownup world now. The portrait in our living room made Jesus look like a blue-eyed white guy with an enviable tan, but I don’t recall ever thinking about his race. I was far more obsessed with his demeanor.

Why, I asked my mother, did Jesus never smile?

She had no patience for this line of questioning.

“He has a lot on his mind,” she’d snap. She wasn’t big on glum Jesus, either; I just knew it. Her Jesus was a happy warrior for justice.

  • ronald

    ho ho ho

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    I like to separate the Historical Saint Nicholas and the more modern Santa Claus. “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” was by all accounts a loving but stern man. A Bishop in Syria who cared for his flock. Looking at the iconography of 100 years or so after his death, we have a slender, dark skinned individual with a dark grey beard. Sintr Klaus was the Dutch version of this fine gentleman, and as such his appearance morphed into a more northern European image. Then we have Clement Moore’s poem that gave us a physical description of St. Nick, including a pipe! Not to be outdone, Thomas Nast gave flesh to that image, bringing him close to the appearance we associated him with. Finally, Haddam Sundblom gave us the Santa we know today, as an advertisement for Coca Cola in the 1930s.
    So, Santa may be white, but St. Nicholas, who he was based on, was definitely a darker skinned Levantine. And I ain’t even gonna try to explain the physiognomy of a 1st Century CE Gallilean!

    • Jane Caspar

      The stories about the real St Nicholas are fascinating and many from the pickled boys to the girls shoes to his shipboard experiences all the way to the Middle Ages misinterpretation of the scenes in a stained glass window, the story book for the mainly illiterate people of the time.