My favorite part of Christmas is decorating the house; picking just the right location for poinsettias, removing tissue from delicate ornaments; the Christmas Duck dressed in a white fur coat, and of course my collection of Santas.
Notice I did not say, “Black Santas.” I am a proud Black woman. Of course, my Santa is Black. However, the last time I sat on Santa’s lap, it was 1967, I was three years old, and Santa was white. The photograph taken that afternoon is among the cherished items I display every year around this time. It conjures up memories I have collected over the years. Memories overshadow the color of Santa’s skin. He is, after all, a fictional character.
When my dear mother insisted the time had come that my children learned there was no such thing as Santa Claus, she asked: “why are you allowing a fat, White man to take credit for all of your hard work?” Her question may have lacked politically correct eloquence, but it triggered a philosophical question that I still carry within. What positive Black images do I have an obligation to represent in my life and the life of my children?
Mom passed away on December 8, 2000, and I miss her most at Christmas. She was a strong, beautiful woman that gave me the best gifts I ever received; Black pride. The kind of pride that makes me smile when I display my collection of Santas with the same skin color as mine. They represent as they hold it down alongside the black and white Woolworth’s Department Store photograph of Santa and I. The same store where sit-ins that led to their integrated lunch counter had taken place a few years before the picture was taken.
There was outrage once by a segment of White America when Minnesota’s Mall of America’s hired it’s first black Santa. That reminded me that some still choose to see the world through the limited prism of their childhood. Their outrage had more to do with their memories of what Santa should look like not what their children’s future memories of Santa (and hopefully this world) will be. Nevertheless, I was overjoyed by the mall’s 21st-century decision. It strengthened my hope for our country and made me love Christmas more than ever that year.
I have put out my Black Santas, decorated my tree, and pulled out the old black and white photo of me and White Santa. This year I don’t feel much like celebrating Christmas. I feel like I shouldn’t. I’m sure it has something to do with what is happening in Washington, DC these days. Oh well, Black Santa is still smiling, so I guess there’s still hope for the world.