The Color of Christmas


Social Media erupted into a firestorm over a recent segment on Fox New’s in which on-air host Megyn Kelly declared that Santa Claus and Jesus were white.  Accusations of racism and ignorance flew from all corners of the web.  Kelly later released a statement saying that her remarks were meant in jest and had been blown out of proportion.   What was kind of lost in the hype was that Kelly’s statements came as a response to an article from Slate by Aisha Harris titled, “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore.”  The main thesis of the article is that the common depiction of Santa Claus as a chubby old white man is unfair and makes kids of other races feel unwelcome.   Harris writes, “Two decades later, America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?”   This of course led to the Fox News segment in which Kelly proclaimed that Santa Claus is white.  She went even further and asserted that Jesus was white too.

What the whole controversy boils down to is nothing identity politics and racism.  Why does it matter what race Santa Claus is?   It matters because people have been told so long that they must identify with the color of their skin.   For Mr. Kringle not to be the same color as you is a tragedy.    It means that black children are not supposed to look up to and identify with white people .   It means that white people must have a Jesus who is blond hair and blue eyes.   The idea is that if your hero is not the same race as you then they can not really be your hero.  This is the message that is being sent.   It is why Black support for Barack Obama has remained close to 95% while anyone who criticizes him is a racist.   We are taught that we are nothing more than the color of our skin.  It is a far cry from MLK’s dream of content of character over appearance.

So what is the truth?  The truth is that St. Nicholas, the basis for the figure of Santa Claus, was a Greek Christian and bishop.  He was known for his faithfulness to Christian orthodoxy and was one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.   In one story, St.Nicholas was so fed up with those teaching heresy that he punched one them in the face.   Of course, he was also known to be fond of children and for giving gifts.   According to a recent survey of his skeletal remains, he was “of average height and slender-to-average build. He was 5 feet 5¾ inches tall.”   Over time the stories of St. Nicholas combined with Dutch and Germanic mythology to form the figure of Santa Claus.  This Santa Claus is a portly white bearded man in a red costume driving a sleigh powered by reindeer.  Therefore, while historically St. Nicholas was a Greek Christ-following heretic puncher,  our image of Santa Claus came to be dominated by the culture of Dutch, German, and England.  It is no wonder than that the depiction today of Santa Claus is a white man.

     What about Jesus?   The Discovery news website gives a quick glance at how our modern depiction of Jesus came about.   A faithful depiction of what Jesus actually looked like though is hard to nail down.  The Bible does not spend a lot of time answering the questions that our modern society may have.   It does not give a detailed account of Jesus appearance.   There are many reasons for this including the fact that Jesus’ purpose did not depend upon his appearance.  Jack Wellman in an article on Patheos does a pretty good job of describing what the bible has to say about Jesus appearance.

“Isaiah described Jesus as looking like an ordinary man and that there nothing special in His appearance that would make Him stand out.  Isaiah described Him in 53: 2b “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”  He wouldn’t fit in well with the prosperity preachers on TV.  He wouldn’t make a popular itinerant preacher today.  He wouldn’t be getting millions of hits on YouTube.  This is because Jesus was not especially handsome and there was “nothing special in His appearance that would make Him stand out” which matches with the many New Testament references of Him easily slipping through the crowds.  He was not desirous to look upon nor had no beauty (in the Jewish vernacular this means that He wasn’t handsome).  Jesus’ humanity made Him out to be no different looking than any other man of the day.  Otherwise, we really don’t know what Jesus looked like other than He was an ordinary looking man, that He was strong and extremely physically fit and that He was able to blend in with the crowds very easily. “

Jesus therefor would have looked like a typical Jewish man from Bethlehem.   This means that skin color wise he was  not white nor black.  He would have been dark-haired, brown-eyed with tan skin.    That said, the Bible does not focus on this aspect.

This brings us back around to the premise of the whole debate.  The truth is important.  What is not important is that we must have a Jesus who is the same color as us.   The Bible teaches that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile.   The color of our skin is ultimately unimportant.  Christians identity is not about our race.   There are, have been, and will be Godly men and women of all races.  Revelation 7:9 gives a beautiful picture of our future.  “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”   In heaven, there will be people of all races and colors.

This also means that we can celebrate people of all colors.  We can look up to great heroes in the past who were of different skin colors than ourselves.    Early in Christian history, North Africa played a vital role.  St. Augustine was one such African.  He played a crucial role not only in the history of the church but in the history of the west.  His contributions to European and American political and cultural thought are foundational.  White protestants can look to St. Augustine as a vital hero without having to think of him as a white man.  Black people can also look back at white men who helped led the charge against slavery and count them as heroes.

What does this mean for Santa Claus?  It means that children of all races can have fun and dream of Santa and his reindeer coming to visit them without worrying that he is depicted as a jolly white man.  There is nothing shameful about having a hero who is not the same race as you.
Which leads us to the final and most important fact.   People of all races can look to the historically factual and true Jesus as their savior even while he is not the same color as them.   Jesus does not need to be white to save white people.  He does not need to be black to save black people.  The truth is that a Jewish tan-skinned man is the savior for all people.   He is the ultimate hero for all races.


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