Fear of a Black Santa

photo of me as Santa
I feel like I have a certain standing to comment in this whole “Santa is White” thing. Fox News human Q-Tip Megyn Kelly is now claiming her comments were in jest. For all I know that’s the truth. I do think, however, she’s proven beyond a doubt that she doesn’t understand either Santa or jest. C’mon! She also said Jesus was white. Laff riot, amiright?

Whatever Megyn Kelly does or doesn’t believe, this thing resonated like the dog-whistle it was.  It was heard in the trenches occupied by beleaguered Yule Defenders who work every day to find someone — anyone — who will Wage War on Christmas™. The fact that they can’t actually find any of those people  is really besides the point. It’s why they’re beleaguered.  Self-deception is hard. Megyn, besides proving you can spell a name pretty much any way you want, has provided a valuable reminder that who ever those people are, They Don’t Look Like Us®.

I first put on The Suit when I was in high school. I was much skinnier then. And I was way too young to be playing Santa. I decided I wanted to do it when I went Christmas caroling with some friends and they gave out Santa hats. Until I put that hat on I never realized how badly I wanted to be Santa. So I bought a suit (I think I ordered it from the Sears catalog) and my seasonal career was born. I had a fake beard and fake wig and hid my dark eyebrows by jamming my hat down low on my face (which you can see in the picture I still do). All throughout college I played Santa over Christmas break. I did house calls. I’d advertise my services in the local shopper newspaper classifieds and my mom would start taking appointments for me right after Thanksgiving. I’d get six or eight gigs a season.  Every once in a while I’d actually deliver the gifts for a family who’d be traveling over Christmas and had kids who were convinced Santa wouldn’t come if they were away. I helped light the Christmas tree at my college in Texas and I’d do visits to shelters and such for college service organizations. For the record, being able to say you own your own Santa suit in college does not help you pick up girls. Just saying.

There was a period of years where I didn’t play Santa, but when my beard started graying I really started thinking about doing it again. I started again in 2011 when Florence city councilman Ted Bushelman passed away.  He’d always played Santa at the City tree-lighting holiday kick-off, and he loved doing it. And he was good at it. He was good at it not because he had a real beard — he didn’t — or that his suit fit particularly well. No, he was good because he had a twinkle in his eye and a love, if not a need, to make the person in front of him happy. And so much better if that person happened to be a child. That was the way he was all the time. Putting on the suit was the least of the things that made him Santa. I’ve had the privilege to play Santa for the city for the last three years and I do it for the kids and the season, but I also do it for Ted.

I’ve changed a lot in the 30-odd years since I put on The Suit for the first time. Up until this year I put some whitening in my beard because I thought my mustache was too dark. I worked with a Santa last year at an event who is a great Santa and his beard is darker than mine (we were in different rooms and the kids never saw us together). The kids don’t care. My beard is really more gray than white and the kids don’t care. I think I liked my college suit a little better because it was a darker red than this one, but the kids don’t care. I never had a kid pull my beard when it was fake and I’ve only had one kid half-heartedly try since it’s been real. Real beard, fake beard, the kids don’t care. One of the greatest Santas I ever saw was the guy who used to do it at the Florence Mall. He didn’t wear a coat, just the pants, boots, hats and a red or green t-shirt with contrasting red or green suspenders.

Santa isn’t the suit.  It’s the person in the suit. It’s what the person in the suit brings to the fictional character being played. Santa can be black. Or white. Or any ethnicity. Santa can be female. Santa can be anyone who did what Ted did: have that twinkle in the eye and have the desire to make that person in front of them happy. Especially a child. I try to live up to that. I hope I do.

And I’m proud to call whoever does Santa. No matter what they look like.