Is Christmas Racist?

In recent days, there has been much debate over whether popular depictions of Santa Claus are somehow racist. For many years now, American public discourse has become obsessed with trying to extract some inoffensive but universal meaning from Christmas. You would think that the salvation of humanity from the unquenchable fires of Hell would be something worth celebrating, but for the secular culture, this is apparently inadequate.

We Three King Penguins?

We Three King Penguins?

Two opposing forces are at work here. On the one hand, there is a desire by many on the left, especially militant atheists, to remove all traces of Christmas from public view entirely. On the other hand, there is an effort, especially in mass media and marketing, to make Christmas into a generic celebration of banal sentimentality and gluttonous consumerism wrapped in warm fuzzies and a sprinkled with snowflakes. The result is a whirlpool of emptiness. Without Christ, Christmas is just a bunch of cheap throw-away decorations imported from China that will end up in the trash on New Year’s Day.

Christmas is so much more than this though. For much of the world, the “jolly old elf” is a relatively minor figure if not completely unknown. In other countries, Nativity scenes and grand illuminations are more central to the Christmas celebration in the public square and presents are delivered by the Christ-child himself or by the three kings at Epiphany. Most traditions outside the United States re-enact parts of the Christmas story itself, with roving bagpiping shepherds, angels, festive processions, and actual carolers instead of piped-in Muzak with trite songs about glowing caribou snouts or anthropomorphic snowballs.

Moses the Black, Patron Saint of Africa

Moses the Black, Patron Saint of Africa

With so many rich and wonderful customs associated with Christmas, a “black Santa” or a “holiday penguin” would just be another superfluous distraction from the true joy of the Nativity. If children of African descent are looking for role models with similar facial features, there are hundreds of African saints who are remembered throughout the year. Instead of trying to project liberal grievance politics onto the celebration of Christmas, let’s celebrate it for what it is: the birth of Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of all mankind.

Jesus commanded his disciples to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” As a result, the Catholic Church is the most inclusive and culturally diverse organization on the planet. The body of Christ contains people from every nation, of every race, every background, every color, every ethnicity, every socioeconomic status, and every language. Jesus became man for all of us and his message is universal. Shouldn’t that be enough?

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6 thoughts on “Is Christmas Racist?

  1. Allan Wafkowski says:

    Uh…Josh, I hate to be a wet blanket, but, uh… there is no Santa Claus.

  2. Fr. Dominic McManus, OP says:

    Here’s my wonder: if the racial identity of Santa Claus is a meaningful question then why don’t we revert to portraying a Greek bishop in Turkey? You know, swarthy, dark, Mediterranean features, maybe even Arab-looking. If this is not ultimately a racial question then it should become obvious pretty quickly.

    That said, if it is a question of universalizing a distinct mythos then we may well have a different question. Our Lord and Our Lady are frequently portrayed, not as first-century Jews, but rather as like in features to those in the local Christian community. But this is not because they are myhical, but because their scope is universal. But purely human myths are coded within a culture in ways which can make universalizing them tricky. Can we really imagine a Cheyenne Ulysses, or a black Odin? Now Santa is an interesting case because his appeal has been deliberately universalized (basically for commercial reasons), but perhaps the current debate over his race has more to do with the largely unintelligible character of the myth in its present form, rather thank any genuine racism underlying the current narrative.

  3. mbassi says:

    Dear Joshua, you are right that our Catholic, as in universal, Church contains people from every race. My question to you is: where does Santa Claus or Pere Noel as he is called in France, fall into that story of salvation? If Santa Claus is a myth, why are you uncomfortable enriching that myth in 2013?

    1. Jack Mason says:

      Well said.

  4. Kenny Kamel says:

    With Obama as president, since we’ve heralded a post-racial age upon his election, anything can be accused of being racist.

    I don’t like Coca Cola, therefore I’m a racist. I drive a Subaru, therefore I’m a racist.
    I use Crest toothpaste, therefore I’m a racist.
    I have a lazy left eye, therefore I’m a racist.

  5. Katherine says:

    I don’t really understand what caused FOX News to have a hissy fit over the suggestion that Santa Claus need not always be portrayed as white. They certainly do not need to think they are “protecting” Christmas by this.

    But while opposing any iconoclasm, I do wish that new works of Christian art designed for our multiracial American society would show the Holy Family in a more historically accurate way than bond haired/blue eyed family I often see.

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