Bundoo’s Twelve Days of Christmas: “Mom, is Santa white?” and other tricky questions
If you’ve flipped on a TV or opened up a news website over the past few days, no doubt you’ve heard the controversy: the pundits and comedians have been at each other’s throats over a comment made by Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly a few days ago that “Santa is a white man.” The story has followed all the predictable political turns. First, there is the outrage (“She said WHAT?”). Then there are the sober rebuttals (“Actually, Santa is based on Saint Nicholas, who was of Turkish descent.”) and the inevitable bits on The Daily Show. All followed up by explanations—she was kidding, after all—and the blowback.
But if you’re a parent like me, you’re worried about another side of this made-for-cable-TV controversy…namely, all the pundits, politicians, religious leaders, and comedians who are scrambling to get on TV and declare, at the top of their lungs, “Why does this matter because SANTA IS FICTIONAL anyway!”
Stop right there.
In my house, Santa can be black or white, tall or short, he can have a belly like a bowl full of jelly or he can be built like a lumberjack, but the one thing he isn’t in my youngest children’s eyes is fictional. I know this is true for many people with young children. Even in houses that are “Santa abstainers,” there’s no question this particular topic is sensitive in a way that almost nothing else is. Who wants their kids to ask, “Mom, I heard on TV that Santa is a fake white man. Is that true?” Kind of a Kris Kringle kill-joy, isn’t it?
I’m joking a little bit, but if you have young children who really believe in Santa in the innocent way that children believe, how do you handle this? How can you shut off the rowdy, loud debate in pop culture to protect your children’s innocence, or is it even in their best interests to try? Is Santa like a Band-Aid—the sooner you rip off the illusion the better?
I’m not going to tell you how to handle the “Santa question” in your own house, but there are a few ways we as parents can approach sensitive topics like this one that sweep in issues of race and belief and even cherished holidays.
First, children are aware that people look different, but they are not racially aware; this is something that comes with time and observation and with guidance from the adults in their lives. When it comes to the ethnicity of Santa, I think it’s a wonderful teaching moment to say something like, “Honey, no one has ever seen Santa, so know one really knows what he looks like. Anyone who says they know what Santa looks like has some other reason for saying it, because they don’t really know. The important thing to keep in mind is what Santa represents, and what Christmas is all about.”
No matter your religious beliefs, people who celebrate Christmas are celebrating something much greater than mundane questions about Santa’s skin tone. Underneath all of the consumerism and politically motivated arguments, Christmas does stand for something. For observant Christians, it’s about the birth of Jesus and the coming of grace. For non-observant Christians, it’s about family and giving and taking a moment from our lives to sit with those we love and celebrate.
As for the talking heads on TV who are so busy declaring Santa is fake, I have a word for them too.