I was thrilled when I spotted him. A ceramic potbellied Santa frozen in mid stride on a glazed platform—one clay hand holding a bag stuffed with gifts and the other ringing a bell. The diminutive glossy painted Santa stood out from all the other holiday decorations because he was black. This was my first black Santa, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He sat among the pine cones and garland decorating a side table in the home of my parents’ friends, The Robinsons. “Where did you get him? “I asked Mrs. Robinson. She told me she made him and explained that she was inspired to make him because she, too, had never seen a Black Santa. At the end of our family’s visit that day, she wrapped up the Santa and gave him to me with a warm, “Merry Christmas!”
Until then, I had always pictured the Santa described in "Twas the Night Before Christmas,” the one with “cheeks like roses, and a nose like a cherry.” Not surprising. After all, the department store Santas, the parade float Santas, and the movie Santas all fit that description. I enjoyed that Santa, even though he didn’t fit in my real brown-skinned girl life.
That first black Santa remains a treasured possession, but he is no longer the only one I have. From the moment I got him, I was a woman possessed, looking for the scarce black Santas everywhere. I scored my best finds outside of the holiday season when the weather is decidedly un-Christmas-y. I scooped them up in Christmas shops all around the country, and got lucky in flea and craft markets. I now have about 40 or so black Santas (honestly I’ve lost count). They are a carefully curated collection that includes gifts from family members and pals who know of my obsession. I’ve even commissioned craftspersons to make Santa label pins, and my very special Santa who stands three feet tall.
Tall Santa always graces my living room during the season, but now the first black Santa is in my office nestled on a red runner where he is flanked by nine other ceramic mocha and mahogany Santas. That number doesn’t include the huge black Santa face hanging on my door. My coworkers now expect to see my black Santas. My colleague Henry Santoro greeted their return this year with his signature,” Blanta’s back!”
Happily, these days it’s a bit easier to find black Santas for sale, and on public display. And this year Santa Larry made a big splash at the Mall of America in Minneapolis when his four-day, appointment-only stint nearly sold out. Retired U.S. Army veteran Larry Jefferson-Gamble, who is African-American, drew a racially mixed crowd—African-Americans, and a lot of white and Latino kids, too. Santa Larry told the Huffington Post, “Kids love Santa no matter what color you are.”
Not everybody was happy to see him. There were racist tweets complaining about Larry’s mall appearance. I saw that as an echo of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s 2013 declaration, “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.” Sorry Megyn, you’re just wrong.
I love my black Santas and I don’t care if certain people can’t see Santa as I do. So, until Christmas Day, I’ll be wearing my black Santa pin, and enjoying my black Santa display, lifted by the spirit of the season.
Here are some of Callie's favorite black Santas. (Credit: Paris Alston/WGBH News)