Under the Sun

Why Santa Says He's a Movement, Not a Man

Santa says kids are color blind. We believe him.
Santa says kids are color blind. We believe him. Darnell Hill
Santa Claus had been spending a lot of time lately explaining the whole sees-you-when-you’re-sleeping thing.

“It sounds creepy and weird, but it’s just the way we have things set up,” he said in a call from the North Pole. “It’s not like we’re spying on you, it’s more like we have a sense of how kids are behaving, man. I’m Santa, and this is how it’s always been done.”

Santa didn’t mind discussing how some kids were surprised to discover he’s Black. “There’s a perception that people have about me,” he explained. “But to be honest, Santa isn’t a race or color. I’m a movement. I’m about saying, ‘Don’t think about yourself, think about other people.’ We spend December thinking about how we can give gifts to the people in our lives. Santa is about ‘How about doing that all year, man?’ Be a movement for change, is what I’m saying. Not, ‘Hey, look at the color of my skin.’”

Children weren’t so interested in race relations, Santa believed.

“Kids don’t ask how come I’m not white, and I don’t mention anything about being Black. For them, it’s all about the Santa and the joy. They don’t see Black. It’s the adults who paint that narrative. For kids, I’m just a jolly individual who’s bringing them the toys they’ve been asking for all year.”

He’d hadn’t exactly hidden himself away, Santa said. “I did a guest appearance on the Martin show. I was at community centers telling stories of Christmas. I was on Good Times when Jimmy Walker dressed up like me. I was on Living Single when Overton Jones wore a Santa suit.”

This sort of thing did lead to a misunderstanding about the number of Santa Clauses in the world. “There’s just me,” said Santa. “I do have helpers, though. These are guys who are checking my list. Were you naughty or nice? We’ve been paying attention to what you’ve been doing.”

Santa knew people wanted to know how he got all those presents delivered in just one night.

“Ah, man,” he said. “I drink a couple of Red Bulls, that’s how. Also, you know, we have a lot of help at the North Pole, man, a lot of elves. We work year-round. We start on the day after Christmas every year. You know that, right? I’ve got over 100,000 people working in my toy factory at one time.”

The biggest helper he had right now was Santa Larry. “He was the first Black Santa to appear at the Mall of America in Minnesota. He was on the Today Show. People see him and go, ‘Oh, right, Santa is everyone, and he’s everywhere.’”

When it came right down to it, Santa said, he didn’t represent any one race. “I’m here to bring joy. My jolliness is a message that encourages other people to go out and do good things, like feed the homeless. Sometimes they want to feed the African American homeless, because they think we’re the most in need. But I try not to think about that.”

He admitted that white people left him different types of treats. “Ho ho ho,” he said. “You know, I’ll be honest with you. Yeah. They tend to leave whole plates of food because they think I’m working all the time, and I don’t have enough to eat. I want to leave them a note saying, ‘I promise Mrs. Claus is keeping me full.’”

People in general were starting to see things differently, Santa said. “Disneyland and Disney World are hiring Black Santas now. They’re calling the North Pole, ‘Hey, we need Black Santas.’ I worry about the backlash, so I hope they’ll be careful. But if I take my mind off the color and think about what Christmas is really about, I know the world will be a better place. Kids will have a better time. And that’s a Santa thing.”

Santa didn’t think this was a confusing time for children as the adults around them were learning to be more tolerant. “Kids adapt,” he said. “Honestly, they’re thinking about presents, not about being woke. They’re thinking about being out of school for a couple weeks, and not paying attention to the negative stuff in the world. It’s all about what they want for Christmas!”

Santa tried not to dwell on things that weren’t jolly. But he admitted that maybe people assumed he was white because they didn’t want their kids thinking about a Black man doing something good for the world.

“A lot of people grow up thinking Black men are doing something other than leading the cause,” he said with a small sigh. “But I can’t cry and pout about that now. I’ve got Christmas to do, man.”
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela