Santa's white?

Christmas spirit is what counts

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The portrayal of Santa Claus as an old white man makes her uncomfortable, wrote Aisha Harris in Slate Dec. 10. Santa should be portrayed as a penguin instead, she said.

It bothers me not at all that Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were black. But if it did, would that justify me demanding you pretend they were white?

“This is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa,” said Megyn Kelly (sadly, no relation) on her Fox News program. “And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.”

Liberals exploded with indignation. To call Santa white is “racist,” they said.

“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change,” Ms. Kelly retorted. “Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That’s a verifiable fact — as is Santa.”

That incensed liberals more. “Fox News’ Megyn Kelly refuses to apologize after declaring that Jesus, Santa were white,” said the New York Daily News.

Next thing you know, that racist Jezebel will claim the sun rises in the east, water flows downhill and it gets dark when the sun goes down.

The jolly fat guy in the red suit is mythological. But St. Nicholas (270-343 A.D.), a Greek born in what is now southern Turkey, was renowned for his love of children and gained a reputation for secret giving.

A painting of St. Nick dating from the 13th century depicts him as a white guy with rosy red cheeks and a white beard.

Greeks are Caucasians. We use “white” as a synonym for “Caucasian,” which isn’t quite correct. Caucasian is “a human racial classification distinguished especially by very light to brown skin pigmentation and straight to wavy or curly hair, and including peoples indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, and India,” according to FreeDictionary.com.

St. Nick was especially popular in the Netherlands, where he was known as “Sinter Klaas,” a colloquial form of “Sint Nikolaas,” and took on some of the physical characteristics attributed to the Norse god Odin.

Dutch settlers took “Sinter Klaas” with them to New Amsterdam (now New York). Santa acquired his present name and his reputation for bringing presents down chimneys on Christmas Eve from a poem that Clement Clark Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote for his daughters in 1822.

Santa was first depicted as a jolly fat guy in a red suit in a cartoon in Harper’s Weekly in 1881. It was drawn by the leading political cartoonist of his day, Thomas Nast, a departure from his customary work, which some thought prompted coinage of the word “nasty.”

There’s no doubt historical Jesus existed. But some blacks, as uncomfortable with a white son of God as Ms. Harris is with a white Santa, claim he was black, or at least dark brown.

Historical Jesus was Jewish. Jews are “children of Abraham,” who came from Ur, in what’s now southeastern Iraq. Abraham and his descendants are Caucasian.

The only contemporary physical description is from a letter to the Emperor Tiberius from the Roman consul Lentulus, who said Jesus had “intense penetrating blue eyes,” long hair, a “short, almost blonde” beard, according to Agape Catholic Bible Study. Some think the letter a 13th-century forgery.

I suspect so. Historical Jesus almost certainly had an olive complexion, as Palestinians do today. (St. Nick probably was olive-complected too.) This means Megyn Kelly was wrong to say he was “white,” her liberal critics say. But plainly she meant he was Caucasian.

That Santa and Jesus are “white” in the racial sense is well-established, and irrelevant. Their message is universal. That’s why no one save pettifogging liberals pays much attention to the ethnicity of Santas at the mall.

At first, St. Nick wasn’t linked with Christmas. But after Dec. 25 was set as the date (probably to coincide with the pagan celebration of the winter solstice), the proximity of St. Nick’s feast day (Dec. 9) made it sensible to combine celebrations.

Jesus probably was born in March or April. But for me, to add remembrance of St. Nick’s love for children to the message of hope and redemption the Nativity brings to a world “in sin and error fallen,” and to celebrate both on what in half the world is the darkest day of the year has symbolic power that trumps liberties taken with historical fact.

“Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled” is a message we can’t hear often enough. Which is why I wish you all — even liberals who’ll be annoyed by the sentiment — a Merry Christmas.

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).

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