The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

December 20, 2013

In diverse U.S., Santa Claus has many faces, races

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 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.

“The character to me is all about the spirit of Christmas,” Sinclair said. “If we leave Christmas to ourselves, we’d be all right.”

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

At Indiana University in Bloomington earlier this month, a dormitory bulletin board posed the question, “Can Santa Claus be a black man?” in hopes of generating fruitful discussion about racial stereotypes. Instead, it generated outrage on social media because it also asked other questions that played to stereotypes, such as whether a black Santa would only visit the ghetto. The display, which a university spokesman described as well-intended but “misguided,” was taken down.

Last week, a high school teacher in Rio Rancho, N.M., 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.”

1
Text Only
World, nation, state
  • Poll finds Clinton trouncing entire GOP field

    Hillary Clinton isn’t only the strong front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, but she’s well ahead of every potential Republican rival, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
     

    April 16, 2014

  • Ukraine bares teeth against eastern uprising

    In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces repelled an attack Tuesday by about 30 gunmen at an airport, beginning what the president called an “anti-terrorist operation” to try to restore authority over the restive region.
     

    April 16, 2014

  • U.N. Security Council sees grim images of Syrian dead

    The U.N. Security Council fell silent Tuesday after ambassadors viewed a series of ghastly photographs of dead Syrian civil war victims, France’s ambassador said. The pictures showed people who were emaciated, with their bones protruding, and some bearing the marks of strangulation and repeated beatings, and eyes having been gouged out.

    April 16, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia causing Ukraine unrest

    The White House on Monday said there was “overwhelming evidence” that Russia is fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine, but suggested that President Barack Obama has not yet concluded that Vladimir Putin’s actions warrant broader sanctions on key Russian economic sectors.

    April 15, 2014

  • Woman arrested after dead babies found

    A Utah woman accused of killing seven babies she gave birth to over 10 years was arrested Sunday after police discovered the tiny bodies stuffed in separate cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home.

    April 14, 2014

  • Rome man killed in crash

    The Ohio State Highway Patrol Chardon Post is investigating a fatal crash that took place just after midnight Sunday.

    April 14, 2014

  • 3 dead in shootings at Kansas facilities

    Three people died Sunday when a gunman opened fire outside the Jewish Community Center and a senior living facility in Johnson County, Kan.

    April 14, 2014

  • High fees eroding many 401(k) accounts

    It’s the silent enemy in our retirement accounts: High fees.
    And now a new study finds that the typical 401(k) fees — adding up to a modest-sounding 1 percent a year — would erase $70,000 from an average worker’s account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options. To compensate for the higher fees, someone would have to work an extra three years before retiring.

    April 14, 2014

  • Abortion in cases of rape: New rifts in old debate

    Poll after poll over many years has shown that Americans overwhelmingly support legal access to abortion for women impregnated by rape. Yet the issue remains divisive, as demonstrated by two current rifts — one involving U.S. aid policy overseas, the other highlighting strategy differences within the U.S. anti-abortion movement.

    April 13, 2014

  • Ohio geologists link small quakes to fracking

    Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.

    April 12, 2014

House Ads
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video