Okay, so I don’t usually start off my blogs with a line from a Michael Jackson song, particularly on one of the High Holy Days of the Christian year. But Sunday a week ago, on Dec. 15, I found a place where these words contained some truth.
On a whim, I walked over from our church to speak to a family in the neighborhood, one where children and grandchildren still gather for Sunday afternoon lunch and watching football and laughter on the front porch. I’ve always wanted to stop by, but never wanted to interrupt the family gathering.
For some reason on that afternoon, I just decided to take a chance. Dressed in my shorts and basketball shoes (as I’m still desperately trying to work my way into shape for church league competition), I walked up to say hello.
I met children, grandchildren, neighbors, and the family matriarch. Grandma took time away from the kitchen to come out and chat. We talked about Augusta Heights, church in general, the community garden, and how people don’t “dress up” for church the way they used to in her day. (I even got a light scolding for that one, because “You shouldn’t go to the Lord’s House dressed any old way!”)
I noticed the grandsons gave a little headshake at that one—not within her view, of course!
She then invited me into her house to see her “Santa Claus” collection, as she announced proudly that she accumulated these without ever spending more than four dollars on any single one. I stepped into a living room where the glorious smell of Sunday lunch still hung in the air, and what had to be several hundred Santa Clauses greeted my eyes.
My mouth nearly hit the floor as I took in the hundreds of statues and figurines depicting Mr. Claus, and his missus, in every size, shape, costume, color scheme…and race or nationality.
These figures depicted Santa and Mrs. Claus as white and black. Some appeared to be hispanic, or middle eastern, or nothern European, or Asian. She shared that she had collected them from stores, yard sales, gifts from friends, etc. And she loved the fact that she had all kinds of Santa Clauses from all over the world.
I don’t know what propelled me to walk down the street that day—perhaps the Spirit—but I was so glad that I did. Not only did I get to meet a wonderful lady and her family, to make a connection within our community; but I also got a reminder that sometimes, it don’t matter if you’re black or white. Particularly when we’re talking about Santa Claus.
A few weeks ago, Megan Kelly made a strange and puzzling remark on her FoxNews show, stating that Santa Claus is white. I suspect that she was simply defending her familiar tradition without considering the true origins of that tradition. St. Nicholas, who is the basis for the modern “Santa”, was actually a 14th-century Turkish Christian monk who loved children with a giving heart and spirit.
Most likely, he was a far cry from the North Pole-pale version of Santa. On top of that, various countries around the world have different stories of who the original “Santa” was and how he comes to children on Christmas Eve.
This Grandmother reminded me of that, and of the danger that comes from defending a single story. For all of its gross commercialization and the popularity of the Coca-Cola or Rudolph versions of Santa Claus, the actually nature of the character goes much deeper than that.
It’s a story that actually transcends our modern, humanized demarcations of race. Santa isn’t black or white or Hispanic or Asian or whatever else, on any kind of permanent basis. The legends we have created (largely for commercial purposes) generate from stories of good-hearted people who love others and want to give to them. Most of these stories originated with a Christian view of love and generosity towards others that existed well before parents felt the need to use the “naughty or nice” list to their advantage.
The truth of the Santa Claus legend has absolutely nothing to do with race, and to declare Santa one race or another, whatever your convaluted reasoning might be, demeans that truth. Christian generosity should never be limited to a joke, or to any one race.
Perhaps that is what made the second part of Kelly’s comments so disturbing, the part where she alleges that she jokingly made these comments, apparently including the identification of Jesus as white. Again, this may be a defense of a single version of Jesus; but it is so far from any truth of the story or purpose that it is absolutely indefensible. And it’s no joke.
I’m not too crazy about the idea of lumping Jesus and Santa together, no matter how Christian the origins of the legend may be. Still, you can do whatever you want to Santa Claus, even if I don’t care for the way you twist the story. It is, after all, a legend that was at one time a supplement to the Christian celebration of the Christ Child.
Cultures around the world see Jesus as He truly is: One who comes to us wherever we are, meeting us in our place, no matter what our race, as seen in nativity images from around the world.
Limiting Jesus to a single race flies in the face of everything historical, scriptural and spiritual about Christmas. We worship a God who spent his first hours on earth in some kind of a feed trough. The first celebrants of the arrival were unkept, unclean shepherds that were suddenly welcomed at the feet of God Almighty. Foreigners, who may not have believed in anything resembling the Hebrew God, received a signature invitation to find the Lord and offer their praise.
The legend of Santa Claus transcends race, but the truth of Jesus Christ affirms it. The child in a manger kicks in the door and announces that whatever your skin tone, nationality, place of origin, religion, monthly bank statement, occupation, or level of “sinfulness”, God comes to you. The Christ receives all and is in all, and offers redemption and wholeness to all.
There is no need for Christ to overcome race, because in Him all creation is affirmed as God’s creation, made good and whole by the manger that leads to the Cross that becomes an empty tomb.
When we hold to our cultural definitions of what Jesus looked like, we run the risk of missing who Jesus actually is. Maybe we need to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves who is truly fighting the War on Christmas.
I am so glad that a kind lady and her family found me and reminded me that Christmas is about so much more than our limited images and experiences. Christ Jesus takes us to a place where our experience is not the only experience, and where the Savior seeks and finds us well beyond our human walls and faces of race, gender, creed, and religion.
Hallalujah! Glory to God in the Highest; and on earth, peace and good will towards all! Not because we find the child in the manger, in the image that we have created for Him. But because the Child finds us, wherever we are, and whoever we are, and sees us for who and what we truly are.
And better yet, He sees us for what we can become.