Trivia Time: Is Santa Claus White?

There has been some controversy lately over the Mall of America hiring a black Santa Claus.

I know, right? Santa is supposed to be white. Having a fictional character played by an actor of the wrong race is a travesty of epic proportion.

Unless it’s Hollywood and the actor is white. Then it’s pretty much mandatory. Every Hollywood producer and filmmaker will insist it’s not them, just the system. It seems to me that one of them could go to their financial backers and say something like, “hey, millions of fans are pissed because they want to see a few more Asian actors in Ghost in a Shell.” But what do I know, I’m just a writer.

Luckily for the purist, there are still mall Santas. They are all white, fat jolly men with white beards, right?

But according to George Takei the Santa in his Japanese internment camp was Asian.

Could it be that Santa isn’t white after all?

A short diversion about the Sami

Once upon a time there was a group of people known as Sami. They lived in Europe during the ice age and when the ice age retreated, they followed the cold north, settling in Northern Scandinavia. They still live there to this day.

They dress in bulky clothes, decorating them in the colors of the northern lights, blues and reds. They live in small villages and were best known for herding reindeer.

(Let me know when this starts ringing bells for you.)

In the winter the snow would pile up in front of their Lavvu, the teepee-like houses they use. By midwinter the snow would be so deep that you couldn’t get in and out of the doors, but instead visitors would often have to climb to the top and lower themselves down the smoke hole.

A Sami Lavvu

A Sami Lavvu

Come midwinter (yule) the village shaman would have to go check on his people. He would take a sack with him, dressing himself in warm red clothes against the cold. He would climb to the top of each Lavvu and let himself down. He would see how each family was doing. If a family was short on food, he’d give them some from his sack. If they had extra, he’d use it to restock the supplies in his sack, making sure each family had enough to survive the winter.

Because the winters in Sami lands was long and being stuck inside for days on end could slowly drive people mad, he would bring the children toys, things to keep them occupied and out of their parents hair.

The Origins of Santa Claus

There are many different and conflicting stories about where Santa Claus comes from. One story associates with him a monk from 280 AD, Saint Nicholas. Others associate him with the pagan god Odin. Or the Germanic legends of Sinterklaas, the Christmas man.

But whatever story you believe, one thing is clear. All across Northern Europe was this memory of a man in a red suit that looked down people’s chimneys in midwinter to check on them. So I am calling it, Santa Claus is a Sami Shaman.

The Sami people look like this:

This is what the historical Santa Claus probably looked like

This is what the historical Santa Claus probably looked like

You’re Welcome.

Are they white? Umm, sort of…

It’s actually a deeply contested debate, one that shows a lot about how slippery the whole concept of race really is. Sami are a genetically distinct indigenous group. They share a lot in common with other far north indigenous tribes, like Inuits and Siberian tribes like the Yakuts and Samoyeds.

They’ve also lived alongside Swedish and Norwegian people for generations and many are light skinned and blonde haired.

So it just depends on how you define white.

But that’s all missing the point. The village shaman isn’t a hereditary post. Shamans are called to the duty. They do it because they are called by the spirits to serve.

So I say this, if you feel called by the spirit of Christmas to be Santa Claus then you must be Santa Claus. It doesn’t matter if you are black, white, gay, straight or whatever.

And as a bonus, one of my favorite Christmas songs, the Native American Classic about a fat white man stuck in the smoke hole of someone’s teepee. Enjoy.

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