Diverse Santas seen as an important evolution for St. Nick

Black Santa performer says he's received positive responses.

November 16, 2022, 5:40 PM

Shopping centers, parties and other events will be filled with festive decorations and of course Santa Claus as the holidays approach.

St. Nick has come from all different backgrounds and ethnicities to reflect the country's diversity. A media expert said boosting this inclusion in the Santa mythology would enhance the holiday experience for all.

"If the point of using our characters that represent our true selves, then why we can't have them look like us?" Charisse L'Pree Corsbie-Massay, an associate professor of communications at Syracuse University, told ABC News.

PHOTO: In this Dec. 16, 2018, file photo, a child sits on Santa's lap at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle.
In this Dec. 16, 2018, file photo, a child sits on Santa's lap at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle.
Genna Martin/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, FILE

While there has been backlash from some white holiday fans, those who have put on the big red suit said there is a far more vocal support.

Corsbie-Massay, who has authored the book "Diversity and Satire: Laughing at Processes of Marginalization," said that Santa as a character has always been an evolution and reflected the communities that celebrated the holidays. St. Nicholas was originally Turkish and his initial depictions were far from the modern depictions of a white man in a red suit and beard, she noted.

Corsbie-Massay said Santas that are Black or other minorities meets the community's needs for self representation.

"Santa as an idea is valuable. We can talk about Santa in different types of bodies can add value to us as a society," she said.

PHOTO: In this Dec. 13, 2021, file photo, a Black Santa is seen on a brownstone stoop in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
In this Dec. 13, 2021, file photo, a Black Santa is seen on a brownstone stoop in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Julia Weeks/AP, FILE

At least one organization has been making the efforts to diversify the character around the country. The New England Santas Society, which provides annual training and classes for Santa Claus performers across the country, reached out to people of all different backgrounds including a transgender Santa, and a Santa Claus with a disability.

Their training was the subject of an upcoming HBO documentary "Santa Camp."

Chris Kennedy, of North Little Rock, Arkansas, a Black Santa who is featured in the documentary, spoke with ABC News Live last week and said he got inspired to take the role after he received an angry letter from a neighbor who objected to a Black Santa that he placed on his front lawn during the 2020 holidays.

"I wanted other kids to be able to see themselves represented, my daughter, most notably, I did it all for her," Kennedy told ABC News Live.

PHOTO: In this Dec. 16, 2013, file photo. Santa Claus Langston Patterson, 77, laughs as he greets children at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall in Los Angeles.
In this Dec. 16, 2013, file photo. Santa Claus Langston Patterson, 77, laughs as he greets children at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall in Los Angeles.
Lucy Nicholson/Reuters, FILE

Other neighbors joined Kennedy in solidarity and put up Black Santas on their lawn. Kennedy said he learned how to interject his own personality and he's seen the joy from Black audiences.

"We had a woman in her nineties come up from Mississippi to see me. Clearly, there's a need and a want out there and I'm fulfilling it for people and making folks happy," he said.

Corsbie-Massay added that having more diversity in holiday celebrations and in pop culture in general has a positive effect for all backgrounds. The more that general audiences see popular Black characters, like Marvel's "Black Panther," the more accepting they will be of a diverse society, she contended.

"More diverse Santas begets more diverse conversation, and I don't see that as a bad thing," Corsbie-Massay said.

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