A “friendly, secular” Santa Claus?

18 Dec

I’m still bugged by the black Santa controversy. Here’s what really gets me: I get what’s disconcerting the folks over at Fox News… and not in a patronizing, holier-than-they way. In a “I have my own issue about what Santa oughtta be” way.

Cue Skinny Santa. Perhaps you’re aware of the ongoing controversy about Santa’s weight. As professional Santa and former Biggest Loser (a reality weight loss show) contestant Roy Pickler says, “Santa is a role model, and kids don’t want to have a role model that’s fat” (http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/22/health/santa-claus-weight/index.html). Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. The fact is, an increasing number of adults don’t. And the argument against a fat Santa is compounded by the trend towards fatter Santas: apparently, Santa outfitters need to stock costumes in size XXXL to accommodate every larger jolly old chaps (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/21/santa-claus-obesity-santa-is-getting-fatter_n_2347178.html).

While I can certainly support the health argument underlying some of the protest of the traditional Santa Claus representation, I’m also cognizant that there’s a fundamentally sizeist, fat-phobic bias at play here. Just saying: it’s not all about heart health.

Yet another response I’m having is internal resistance to the idea of Skinny Santa. This is where I can empathize with Fox News’ gut response to black Santa. Let me repeat: I can relate to their gut response. Not how they’re handling it.

And whether your line is heterosexual Santa, male Santa, white Santa, fat Santa, old Santa, physically (and even magically) able Santa or socioeconomically flush Santa (because who else can run an operation like that with no income?), you probably have some non-negotiable that makes Santa Santa for you.

That’s culture. It’s the idea of how things should be. It’s about what’s right… according to me. And us, whoever “we” are. Culture is even if we know better, how we tend to see the world. And because Santa is culture, one size doesn’t fit all. The argument Aisha Harris is making for an anthropomorphic Santa (bag the human icon and go with something safe like a penguin) is and isn’t a solution for the real Santa issue. The fact is that Santa will persist, and that he is necessarily exclusive, in order to continue speaking to the cultural base that created him.

The challenge for us, if we really hope for Santa to “warm the hearts of children everywhere” (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/holidays/2013/12/santa_claus_an_old_white_man_not_anymore_meet_santa_the_penguin_a_new_christmas.html),  will be to feel welcome and safe to have our Santa without having to impose our Santa on everyone else, and to remember the point of Santa when we come across a Santa that challenges our expectations and sense of what’s right.

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