Christmas 2012: The burden and blessing of being a black Santa

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The people who play the man in the big red suit say it’s the best job in the world.

Although they’re only employed for about two months of the year, it certainly doesn’t stop these dedicated men from donning long white beards and red velvet jumpsuits.

But a few men across the U.S. are attempting to challenge the iconic image of Santa Claus, with the simple phrase: “Why can’t Santa be black?”

Dion “Santa Dee” Sinclair  has started an entire business around the image of the African-American Santa Claus. Sinclair, along with his two other black Santa Clauses, Santa Bob and Santa Tee, have provided the same Santa magic to children in multicultural communities in Atlanta, Georgia. Sinclair believes it’s important for children, especially minorities, to have a prominent icon they can culturally identify with.

“A black Santa is something that they can associate with. It’s black Santa, and I’m a black person,” Sinclair told theGrio in a phone interview. “[These kids] can associate with having a black Santa or a black angel on the Christmas tree because they’re black.  There shouldn’t always be a white angel or a white Santa.”

Having grey hair since he was a child and a”salt and pepper” beard in high school, Sinclair said that becoming the iconic role of  Santa Claus was his destiny. Now, this southern Santa has turned his ‘destiny’ into a family-run business hiring everyone in his family from his mother who plays Mrs. Claus to his youngest daughter who stars as Elf Gigi.

Santa Dee with Elf Gigi (Courtesy of Dion Sinclair)

Santa Dee with Elf Gigi (Courtesy of Dion Sinclair)

Sinclair, who has been in the industry for 11-years, has come across children and parents alike who are surprised to see an African-American Santa Claus. Sinclair, in response, always  refers to his favorite poem called “Can Santa be Black?”

Written by BJ Wrights, the poem tells a whimsical story about how Santa can take the shape and form of any physical appearance. An excerpt from the poem reads:

“My skin has been black, white, yellow, red, brown;
My eyes have been slanted, crossed, and round.
Sometimes I have been a she:
All these things are a part of me.”

This poem, Sinclair adds, helps children understand  that the fantasy of Santa Claus can be “anything you want him to be.”

The Atlanta-based Santa, who is a member of many of the prominent Santa Claus communities, hopes that other men of minority backgrounds, such as Asians and Hispanics, will also join him and don the famous red suit so they can also represent their communities.

“It’s very hard to find a Hispanic or even an Oriental Santa Claus. I haven’t been able to find one, but it’d be great if there were some out there,” he says.