By David Lias
It all started when Slate published an article by writer Aisha Harris about how weird it is to grow up as a black child and only see Santa Claus as a white man.
I’ll admit that’s a fair, thought-provoking point, especially since I’m a native South Dakotan and virtually was never around any people of color until I began attending college – and even then, the population of non-Caucasian students was VERY much in the minority.
Slate gave Harris’ piece this headline: “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore.”
As a child, it was easy for me to accept Santa as being white. Admit it, when you were a little kid, you probably never gave the color of his skin a second thought, either.
A black woman having the audacity to suggest that the way we view Santa should change was just too much for the talking heads at Fox News.
Fox anchor Megyn Kelly debated this hot breaking news issue and kicked off proceedings, according to video clips I’ve seen, by stating the scientific fact that “Santa just IS white. Santa is what he is. I just wanted to get that straight.” She then added: “Jesus was a white man, too,” suggesting Kelly doesn’t know that much about the history of Jesus.
Kelly’s claims attracted much attention, from both supporters and detractors. For the latter, Jon Stewart pointed out that Kelly’s ringing argument – “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change” – might as well be the motto for oppression. On the other side, Rush Limbaugh stepped up for Kelly, describing Santa Claus as part of “American history” – and making the truly definitive point that Santa is white because that’s how he appears in Coca-Cola ads.
There’s a good chance you may not have even heard about this kerfuffle, or if you did, you wisely chose to ignore it. And, I’ll apologize right now for bringing it up, because it is such a non-issue.
Like Santa, I’ve been keeping a list this year – my “Things That Bother Me About the Christmas Season” list, and the debate over St. Nicholas’ skin color is the latest addition.
Other things that bug me: Black Friday, joined by a new trend, Black Thursday (which used to be known as Thanksgiving), and how our focus on the Christmas season so easily is distracted to the least important things, like that video of the fight that broke out in a Costco during a shopping riot over something as fleeting as yoga pants (which hopefully, by next Christmas, will be out of style).
Let me suggest that there is a teachable moment from Kelly’s staunch stance on Santa’s skin color. If we share her view – if we’re seriously emphatic that he is white and must remain white, there’s a good chance that our view of the rest of the world is just as limited and unimaginative.
Christmas, after all, is a time to take a cue from our kids with their boundless imaginations, who can easily picture the magical man who slides down our chimneys every Christmas Eve.
It is also a time of reassurance – to be reminded of what is truly real and abiding.
Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, plagued by doubt, was inspired to write a letter to the editor of New York’s Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
“Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
“Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
“115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.”
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.