Black Santas Brighten Holiday

School teacher Scottie Caldwell had never really noticed it until one of her sixth-grade students asked the question.

Why didn’t she ever see a black Santa Claus at the mall?

Caldwell didn’t have a good answer, but she found a solution. She persuaded some black men at her church in Chattanooga, Tenn., to dress up as Santa and pose with children for Christmas photos.

For children who didn’t relate to a white Santa, the response to a black Santa has been satisfying, she said.

“A lot of my children are from the inner city and you wouldn’t think that some of them would want to sit in Santa’s lap,” Caldwell said. “But they did, and liked it.”

Creating a Cultural Link

That need for a cultural link to Christmas is creating a growing niche market for holiday themes and decorations depicting black Santas and Nativity scenes, said Terrie Williams, who owns a New York-based public relations and marketing company.

“It’s important to celebrate our images. For those who celebrate the traditional kind of Christmas, you want to be able to see yourself,” Williams said.

Karla Winfrey, a former Nashville television reporter who is Oprah Winfrey’s cousin, remembered her disappointment when she couldn’t find a holiday tie featuring a black Santa.

“I wanted one that looked liked the friendly, brown face that came to my house when I was a child,” Winfrey said.

Winfrey, now a freelance journalist living in New York, decided to design Christmas ties herself and last month launched an Internet company called Colored Christmas that sells ties featuring a black Santa and black angels.

Winfrey will expand her offerings based on the responses she’s gotten from people of other races.

“They say, ‘Oh, that’s a black Santa. I’ve never seen anything like that before,“‘ she said.

Santa Without a Beard?

Edward Lee, 52, is accustomed to that reaction. He is one of the few black Santas working in the Atlanta area.

“People passing by usually do a double take,” said Lee, who has been working at the South DeKalb Mall for seven years.

What Lee loves most about the job is how the children’s “faces light up when they see Santa and it’s somebody their own color and they can relate to ... I get a lot of customers who come back year after year.”

All races need to have their own Santa, Lee said, “so a person can feel proud in their own race, because it starts as a child.”

Paul Rasmussen, president and CEO of Santa Plus in St. Louis, which provides Santas for malls nationwide, agrees there’s a need for more diversity.

The problem, he said, is finding black men to play Santa who have a natural beard. Lee is the only one the company has.

“We’re trying to have more of our Santas be naturally bearded,” Rasmussen said. “We feel it provides a better experience for the children.