Here comes Santa… Who?

It’s Christ­mas Eve, Face­less — it’s here, it’s final­ly here!

Let’s set the scene:

The fire’s down low and the Christ­mas tree is lit; the stock­ings are hung, some cook­ies and milk sit on a plate beside the tree.

Two lit­tle kid­dies are up in their rooms, tucked in their beds but sleep­ing fit­ful­ly, as lit­tle ones do on Christ­mas Eve; the dreams of shiny new toys piled up under the tree and all the Christ­mas cook­ies and treats they’ll devour back danc­ing through their heads—

Hey, what was that? Shh, shh, lis­ten… did you hear that? Was that a jin­gle?

Stomp, stomp, stomp. I think there’s some­thing on the roof!? Wait, wait, I hear some­one down­stairs!

The pair of them sneak out of their beds, tip­toe­ing ever so qui­et­ly down the hall, strain­ing to hear what’s going on… they poke their heads into mom and dad’s room – but they’re sound asleep in their beds. Whatever’s rustling around down there can’t be them.

They con­tin­ue their jour­ney down the hall, qui­et­ly nav­i­gat­ing the stairs like lit­tle Christ­mas Nin­jas, inch­ing clos­er to the fam­i­ly room when they spot it: the back of a red coat, a flash of a black boot, the sight of a big vel­vet sack on the ground, its pay­load spilling out onto the hard­wood floor.

Their hearts are rac­ing, their lit­tle hands are all sweaty; they can’t con­tain them­selves any­more and they bolt around the cor­ner yelling “San­ta, San­ta! You came, you real­ly came!” as she turns around to greet them, her long black hair fram­ing her beau­ti­ful smile, just like it does on all the Christ­mas cards, and—

(Whoa, hang on a sec­ond…She? Black hair?  I’m sor­ry Face­less, not sure what hap­pened there. Let’s try that last bit again: )

they bar­rel around the cor­ner, their arms in the air and shout­ing “San­ta, San­ta! We made you cook­ies!” and he turns around (that’s bet­ter), his thick white beard glow­ing against his dark choco­late skin, his smile stretch­ing from ear to—

(CUT, cut. What the hell is going on, here. Focus, for chris­sakes. Ok, I’ve got this — one more time: )

…they spill into the room, trip­ping over each oth­er, breath­less­ly shout­ing “Dun Che Lao Ren!” as they take in the sight of the slen­der old man in his ornate red gown, his long beard brush­ing along the tops of the box­es he placed care­ful­ly under the tree.

(Nailed it! That’s a wrap… and can some­one PLEASE make me a sand­wich.)

Con­fused yet?

Here we are, yet again, neck (and wal­let) deep in the Sea­son of Lights: the uni­ver­sal time for cel­e­bra­tion, for char­i­ty, for good­will towards me (er, men). Peo­ple of all colour, creed and gen­der will raise a glass or share a moment with fam­i­ly and friends over the next few days… many have already been cel­e­brat­ing for sev­er­al days now. Many in these neck of the woods will call their ver­sion of the sea­son Christ­mas; oth­ers are wrap­ping up Hanukkah, many will kick off Kwan­zaa on the 26th. These are among the few dozen cel­e­bra­tions that make up the Sea­son; and while sev­er­al of those tra­di­tions don’t rec­og­nize the con­cept of jol­ly old St. Nic (the guest of hon­our in these here Ram­blingsss), they all share one com­mon theme: it’s a time to reflect on the year as it was and what the future holds, a time to reach out to friends and loved ones, and to love their fel­low man.

Won­der­ful.

And yet, every year in North Amer­i­ca (I assume it’s only us that are stu­pid enough to see this as some­thing mer­it­ing any kind of con­ver­sa­tion at all), a debate rages on over one tiny detail: can there be such a thing as a Black San­ta? A Chi­nese San­ta? A Skin­ny Fil­ipino or a Plump Pak­istani one? The con­ver­sa­tion is always spun from the view­point of “pre­serv­ing the cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of the sea­son” — but for a lit­tle con­text, you need to look at how we got to the fat old San­ta as you and I know him in the first place.

Let’s start here:

St_Nicholas_Icon_Sinai_13th_century

 

Meet Nico­las of Myra, bet­ter known to you and I as Saint Nicholas. He’s the patron saint of sailors, thieves (the repen­tant kind, not the one with his hand in your pock­et – haa, made ya look), pawn­bro­kers and chil­dren. He was an ultra-gen­er­ous soul with a pen­chant for leav­ing sneaky gifts for peo­ple, like putting coins in people’s shoes who left them out (which may be the ori­gins of the tra­di­tion­al stock­ing), prompt­ing the ini­tial idea of gift giv­ing on St. Nicholas Day on the 6th of Decem­ber. It’s still cel­e­brat­ed today.

So. The arche­type for what we know as San­ta Claus was a hum­ble mod­est bish­op, not some fel­la that smells like rye and dirty fin­gers at the local mallnor did he bear any resem­blance to the San­ta Douche that ped­dles Benz’s on TV… God, I hate that guy. And know­ing that St. Nic was a bish­op, it makes sense that any depic­tion of the old man pri­or to the 1800’s was a slen­der, some­what som­bre fig­ure dressed in long flow­ing robes. But with the bas­tardiz­ing pro­fi­cien­cy we “civ­i­lized” folks in the Amer­i­c­as seem to have exhib­it­ed for cen­turies, St. Nicholas was gang-banged togeth­er with the Dutch Sin­terk­laas and the Eng­lish, occa­sion­al­ly Yule goat-rid­ing Father Christ­mas (there’s an image you’re going to have some trou­ble get­ting out of your head, kid­dies), turn­ing him into the fat, jol­ly, high­ly-mar­ketable char­ac­ter called San­ta Claus that we all know and love. All of this in an era where white anglo-sax­on faces were the norm, I feel it’s impor­tant to inter­ject here as it plays into our lit­tle con­ver­sa­tion. We’ll cir­cle back to that in a bit.

With me so far? Great, because there’s more.

It wasn’t until A Vis­it from St. Nicholas  was pub­lished in 1823 that we got Santa’s cur­rent MO down pat:

…When, what to my won­der­ing eyes should appear,
But a minia­ture sleigh, and eight tiny rein­deer,
With a lit­tle old dri­ver, so live­ly and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick…

… Down the chim­ney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish’d with ash­es and soot;
A bun­dle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a ped­dler just open­ing his pack:
His eyes — how they twin­kled! His dim­ples: how mer­ry,
His cheeks were like ros­es, his nose like a cher­ry..

And on, and on. By the by, my favourite ver­sion of The Night Before Christ­mas is the Clark Gris­wold ren­di­tionjust before Eddie bursts into the room with Frank Shirley. I’ve watched that movie 20 times and laugh like I’ve nev­er seen it before… CLASSIC, I tell ya. I may or may not be creep­i­ly chuck­ling to myself as I type this. But, I digress.

With this vivid pic­ture of what San­ta should look like paint­ed out so elo­quent­ly for us, and fur­ther cement­ed by the likes of the mar­ket­ing depart­ment of Coca-Cola Com­pa­ny, numer­ous oth­er retail­ers and artists like Nor­man Rock­well, the image of a jol­ly white San­ta has been indeli­bly burned into our con­scious­ness.

Quick recap: over the course of a few hun­dred years, he’s been a skin­ny bish­op, a creep­tas­tic goat-rid­ing dude, an almost lep­rechaun-like fig­ure, cul­mi­nat­ing in the cur­rent fat old white guy haul­ing a big red sack, rid­ing some trip­py sky-far­ing rein­deer. It’s all good; times change, peo­ple and tra­di­tions evolve, right? We even tamed the pun­ish­ment for being an ass­hole all year long, swap­ping out a fab­u­lous­ly-wicked dev­il for a sil­ly-look­ing elf with a Naughty List and a lump of coal.

Meet Kram­pusthe Christ­mas Dev­il and my new bestie, cre­at­ed to be St. Nicolas’s his side­kick to scare chil­dren (and appar­ent­ly their moms, too - don’t ask me what Krampie’s up to there) into being less of a dick and more of a decent human being. Why did they swap him out, you ask…? Do you real­ly need to? It’s hard enough to get kids to sit on the jol­ly fat man’s knee as it is, and he’s a cud­dly bas­tard; there would be no chance with that freak lurk­ing about. (We won’t even men­tion thisJesus, Miley..what would I do with­out you? You liv­en these posts up so much. I real­ly ought to send her a Christ­mas card.)

Jump ahead to today: the com­plex­ion of the world is far more colour­ful (even our emoti­cons are in on the action) – but the mere sug­ges­tion of a Black/Indian/Chinese/Female San­ta gives peo­ple pause. “You’re mess­ing with tra­di­tion”, they’d argue. Just because it makes you feel uncom­fort­able doesn’t mean it has to change”, this talk­ing head said. This Slate arti­cle argues that there should be no such thing as a white San­ta any­more. I don’t agree with the talk­ing head or the writer on many of their points, but they both pose an inter­est­ing argu­ment: just because the com­plex­ion of our col­lec­tive skin has changed–just because some­thing makes you feel uncomfortable–is every­thing man­dat­ed to change with it? Just because I’m black, or just because you’re a woman, does San­ta have to reflect that, too?

Before I put in my two cents, let’s think of this anoth­er way. There are 7 con­ti­nents in the world and they are vast­ly dif­fer­ent places: dif­fer­ent peo­ple, dif­fer­ent belief sys­tems, dif­fer­ent skin tones, dif­fer­ent lan­guages. Right off the bat, we’ve got 7 poten­tial­ly dif­fer­ent Santa’s/Father Christmases’/Dun Che Lao Ren’s, etc… and since they’re pre­sum­ably all male, let’s add a female one for each con­ti­nent to bal­ance things out. In any of those con­ti­nents, the peo­ple are as dif­fer­ent as the coun­tries that exist on them. North Amer­i­ca is fair­ly sim­plis­tic in that sense, so we could have a Cana­di­an one, an Amer­i­can one, and a Mex­i­can one. But there are 50 coun­tries in Europe… they should prob­a­bly get their own, right? Maybe — some areas over there are so divid­ed right now that they’re inca­pable of shar­ing any­thing, let alone San­ta. Per­haps we just give them a hand­ful to sort out amongst them­selves… so let’s say we’re at 23 San­tas, all dif­fer­ent colours, shapes, eth­nic­i­ties. I could go on with all of that, break­ing it down even fur­ther — but that’s a point­less exer­cise.

So back to the ques­tion at hand: Should there be a white San­ta? Of course there should. When the mod­ern day tra­di­tion of San­ta Claus was cre­at­ed, the faces and voic­es of influ­ence in North Amer­i­ca were pre­dom­i­nate­ly white; so nat­u­ral­ly, he became a big jol­ly white guy. And those that want to hold onto that tra­di­tion would be fool­ish to let it go; after all, if the con­cept of San­ta Claus was cre­at­ed in Africa, we’d have a sim­i­lar dis­cus­sion on our hands.

So in that vein, should there be a Black one? Of course there should be (some might argue he already exists). Let there be one of every race, colour, gen­der and creed, I say… because as is usu­al­ly the case with such things, we’ve missed the point entire­ly. None of these new San­tas, regard­less of how dif­fer­ent they may look from our heav­i­ly-mar­ket­ed com­mer­cial ideals, can dimin­ish the fact that San­ta exists, regard­less of what we think San­ta looks like. Santa’s appear­ance is incon­se­quen­tial.

Yes, you did read that cor­rect­ly. I repeat: San­ta is real–just as real as you and I are–and it doesn’t mat­ter what colour he, she or it is.

No, I’m not (that) crazy.

Don’t believe me? Let’s jump back to the begin­ning of today’s ram­ble, with our lit­tle Christ­mas Nin­jas sneak­ing down the stairs. The only thing that changed was the ver­sion of San­ta they found in their liv­in­groom; the con­cept of what was wait­ing for them was always the same. What colour his skin is, how dark her hair was or the lan­guage he spoke is and always will be irrel­e­vant to what San­ta is.

San­ta, Father Christ­mas, Bab­bo Natale or what­ev­er you choose to call him is the embod­i­ment of the spir­it of the sea­son: a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the hap­pi­ness and joy (or, som­bre­ness and intro­spec­tion) this time of year brings. Of what we real­ly should be focused on. What San­ta looks like is mean­ing­less; which is why the debate over a Skin­ny Black San­ta is as stu­pid as the debate over a Fat Chi­nese one, or Dwarf Female Hawai­ian one–or, as is the cur­rent case, a Jol­ly White one–is. And if we can get past all of that noise, per­haps we’ll redis­cov­er what that hum­ble bish­op was real­ly try­ing to teach those who would lis­ten so long ago: how to just love each oth­er, already. With­out strings, with­out expec­ta­tions; for no oth­er rea­son than the fact that we’re all in this shit-soup togeth­er and we need to look out for one anoth­er, whether we’re relat­ed by blood or just by spir­it. Have you seen the news late­ly, Face­less? We as a world need that les­son more now than ever, I think.

Now, if you’ll excuse me: my new bud­dy Krampie and I are off to track down some no-good­ers and toss them into his lit­tle tor­ture bas­ket… good times. I might even get to flog ’em with the switch­es, if I play my cards right. But for the rest of you, in what­ev­er met­ro­pol­i­tan city or moun­tain­side town you find your­self in right now, I wish you a most excel­lent Christ­mas (or what­ev­er you hap­pen to be cel­e­brat­ing), my dear Face­less friends… I’ll raise a glass to all of you at Christ­mas din­ner.

Always,

-Your Writer

 

 

 

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