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The first Noel wasn’t quite so white

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No occasion inspires more creativity than Christmas.

But it also invites some odd musings and outrageous claims. As this season always makes me very reflective, I’ll offer a few columns over the next week on how recent yuletide incidents fit into the broader themes of the holiday. My initial one here, “The first Noel wasn’t quite so white,” will examine what we reveal through some of our religious practices.

Most of us have now heard how Fox News host Megyn Kelly confirmed last week that Santa Claus was indeed white. She was discussing a column written for Slate by Aisha Harris, who proposed Santa be given a makeover as an adorable penguin in recognition of our society becoming more diverse.

Harris wrote that, as a child, she felt shame that the black Santa portrayed on her home decorations wasn’t the real Santa seen in movies, on TV and in department stores. What was wrong with the color of her skin that such a beloved character couldn’t share it?

But on her program last week, Kelly wasn’t buying any of it.

“When I saw this headline, I kind of laughed and said, ‘This is so ridiculous; yet another person claiming it’s racist to have a white Santa,’” Kelly said.

And then Kelly dropped this gem: “And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. But Santa is what he is ...”

What struck me the first time I saw this segment was that Kelly felt the need to assure children of Santa’s true skin color. Perhaps she thought there would be pandemonium in Candy Land if kids suspected that the Man in Red wasn’t truly white.

But Kelly’s stream of consciousness didn’t stop there. In soliciting some thoughts from Monica Crowley, Kelly offered this: “But just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man too. ... But my point is how do you just revise it in the middle of the legacy, of the story and change Santa from white to black?”

“Yeah, you can’t,” Crowley responded. “But you’re absolutely right. Look, Santa Claus is based on St. Nicholas, who was an actual person, a Greek bishop and was a white man. … So, you know, you can’t take facts and then try to change them to fit some sort of a political agenda or a sensitivity agenda.”

Kelly and Crowley just accept that both Jesus and St. Nicholas were white when this is likely untrue. The Fox News pundits weren’t dealing with what facts are known about these historical figures; they were speaking from their experiences of growing up in white America.

Jesus was a Jewish Palestinian whose family fled the area to avoid the wrath of Herod. And where did they go to blend in with the crowd? Egypt. ‘Nuph sed.

St. Nicholas was born in a region now located in Turkey. Many early depictions of him portray someone with a darker complexion than that of a jolly old (white) elf.

Kelly has since claimed that her Santa statement was done tongue-in-cheek. This sounds dubious since I don’t see the humor in the claim and it’s obvious she still believes it.

Kelly’s determination to maintain the status quo is typical of a group that views itself as the standard of good. But given that she’s working from a fraudulent viewpoint, who’s the one not wanting to court discomfort here?

It’s ironic that Kelly displayed her annoyance at a child’s agony when it comes to a symbol of Christmas. She argues it doesn’t matter if some Americans feel inferior because members of the dominant society like things the way they are.

But wasn’t this the very point of this holiday, for the supreme being to live in someone else’s skin? Jesus not only showed how he empathized with others, he preached that we do the same. Does “Love your neighbor as yourself” mean nothing anymore, even at Christmas?

Christianity as practiced in western culture has long portrayed everything good and divine as white. Look at Michelangelo’s image of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Most of the renowned paintings of Jesus show him with piercing blue eyes, perfectly groomed hair and pearly white skin.

This shows that those of us in white society aren’t worshipping the creator who is said to exist; we’re adoring ourselves. And when nonwhite neighbors want us to sympathize with their plight, we push them away because we’re annoyed at the thought of change — the very change that Jesus directed us all to accept.

The “God becoming human” narrative was supposed to show that everything was now different, that we must proceed with a new priority. We’re less able to help others if we don’t know what they’re enduring and if we’re largely uninterested in their concerns.

But rather than confront what Christmas truly means, many people choose the popular version. They don’t care much for the colorful mysteries of the Land of Oz and will stick with the simplicity of life in black and white.

So if Kelly wishes to remain inside her comfort level, all she has to do is to click her ruby slippers and repeat, “There’s no such thing as white privilege; there’s no such thing as white privilege …” Ah, Christmastime in Kansas!

Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to jmoore@wdt.net.

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