Why is Santa white?

middle east santa -- croppedNushi Mazumdar/THE REVIEW
Contrary to popular depictions, St. Nick was likely not white.

BY
Column Editor

Despite the vast diversity present in America, it’s kind of strange to mostly see Santa portrayed as a white man. It’s something that I hadn’t really thought about until The Review’s editor-in-chief, Jacob Baumgart, broached the question to me. It was a fair question: why is Santa typically white?

As an Asian woman, I honestly never expected to see an Asian Santa. I’ve always accepted that Santa was white and never really questioned it. It’s never really bothered me. As I thought about it, however, I really wondered, “Why is there no Asian Santa?” Or a Santa of some other ethnicity? Why are we not represented? I celebrate Christmas just like everyone else does. It’s actually my favorite holiday, and yet I don’t see my ethnicity represented fairly.

So, I ventured on a quest to discover Santa Claus’s true lineage and find out whether the jolly, bearded man is actually supposed to be white. There were numerous books I found in the library and article online about good ‘ol Santa, and all of them agreed that the man, St. Nicholas, who Santa Claus was based on is from the Middle East.

St. Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in Patara, Lycia, which is in modern-day Turkey, which has often been the source of Middle Eastern ideas diffusing into European culture. So, St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus as we know him, was not white. He was pretty thin but did have a white beard and was filled with joy and kindness.

St. Nicholas was a lot like the Santa we know and believe in (Santa is real: no one can tell me otherwise). He often helped children and was known for doling out gifts. Despite his death on Dec. 6, 343 CE, he continued to live in the hearts and minds of those who heard of his deeds.

St. Nicholas became popular in Europe, especially in Holland. As time went on, St. Nicholas found fame in America. In 1881, Cartoonist Thomas Nast portrayed him as a round, bearded white man, which is far from an accurate representation of the man Santa was based on. The appearance of St. Nicholas, whose kindness and generosity inspired this legendary character, was lost and forgotten.

At the time, it probably made sense to make Santa Claus white, as people of color weren’t really accepted into society and weren’t represented equally. That’s not to say we’re completely welcomed by everyone in America even now.

Despite the vast changes that have occurred in this country, regarding racial discrimination, there’s still a lot of progress that needs to be made. Shouldn’t we be talking about these issues on a more frequent basis? Why should Santa be white when America consists of a variety of races and ethnicities that deserve to be represented?

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