What color is Santa Claus in Appalachia?
Have you ever thought about the race of Santa Claus? Is Santa black, white, or a racial mixture? What ethnicity is an Appalachian Santa Claus?
Let’s review a little history. The region of Appalachia includes 420 counties in 13 states and is home to more than 25 million people. Appalachia extends from southern New York to northeastern Mississippi.
First of all, the jolly, red-nosed white man and bearer of Christmas gifts is a fictional North American character. However, the Santa Claus legend can be traced back to St. Nicholas, a Christian monk who lived in the fourth century in what is today the country of Turkey. Over time, many stories and legends have circled the earth about St. Nicholas’ good deeds. What color was St. Nicholas? White, black, or other.
Let’s converse about the history of the black Santa. Brian Wheeler of BBC News penned an article about the secret history of black Santas. In 1919, a story about the “the first negro Santa ever put on the streets of any city” was printed in the Pittsburg Daily Post. Volunteers of America hired him because of “appeals from poor coloured children,” according to the newspaper. In 1943, a department store in Harlem hired its first black Santa. In the 1970′s a few department stores began to hire black Santas.
Macy’s department store in New York has featured a black Santa for several years, but he is located far away from the white Santa. Because children believe in only one Santa Claus, putting a black one and a white one together would ruin the myth that Santa is real. That’s Macy’s explanation.
Fast forward to now. In 2016, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, hired its first black Santa. According to an article by National Public Radio-NPR, an online backlash from adults ensued over a black Santa at the mall, but the children voiced no objections. Change is scary, hairy and necessary.
But another controversy brewed a few years ago. What color was the face and skin of St. Nicholas? Go google info on the documentary, “The Real Face of Santa,” produced by Atlantic Productions and you decide.
What do children think about the color of Santa? “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (2009), reviewed the following study. In 1996, a professor from Ohio State University observed two first-grade classes with a total of 33 children with two-thirds being white and the remaining kids being black or of mixed race. The notion of a black Santa was introduced when the teachers read the Afrocentric version of ”’Twas the Night B’fore Christmas.” The white children reacted in disbelief when they saw the picture of black Santa. The black children reacted with excitement. The remainder of the week found that some children agreed that Santa was a mixture of black and white while others concluded that the black Santa was a helper to a white Santa. What happened next? A black Santa visited the classroom parties. Some white children rejected Santa as black and some accepted him. Most black children accepted Santa as black but one black child questioned his authenticity. Later, when the teachers asked the children to draw Santa, both black and white children drew Santa with white skin and a white beard.
All children are influenced by the dominant white culture in North America. Have you ever set eyes on a black Santa Claus on a television show or in a movie? It is rare. Have you ever set eyes on a black Santa in Appalachia? I haven’t.
Now let’s converse about the ethnicity of Santa in Appalachia. Will Appalachian people make room for the possibility of an African-American Santa, a Hispanic Santa, an Asian Santa, a Native American Santa or a Santa of any other color besides Caucasian? Should each race only portray a Santa with the same skin color?
I hope this article sparks peaceful conversations about diversity, race, and multiculturalism in Appalachia. I say, “Merry Christmas to children and Santas of all skin colors and to all, a good night.”
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is a self-syndicated newspaper columnist with articles about children, family, and parenting published in multiple newspapers. Martin is the author of the children’s picture book, “Tessie Tames Her Tongue” (2017), released by Free Spirit Publishing. Martin is a Marshall University graduate, a native Appalachian and resides in southern Ohio.