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.)
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.
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:
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 mall; nor 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 rendition, just 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 Krampus: the 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 this. Jesus, 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.