Jesus, Santa, and skin color

Do the complexions of Santa Claus and Jesus really matter or are people looking for controversy? Photo: AP

SAN DIEGO, December 17, 2013 — When Megyn Kelly of Fox News reacted to an article about Santa Claus’ skin color, an avalanche of criticism ensued which eventually went beyond Santa and brought Jesus Christ Himself into the conversation.

In the beginning, Aisha Harris, in an article for Slate, talked about the common depiction of Santa Claus as white and how the image was different in her own home:

“Then there was the Santa in my family’s household, in the form of ornaments, cards, and holiday figurines. A near-carbon copy of the first one—big belly, rosy cheeks, long white beard: check, check, check. But his skin was as dark as mine.”

“Seeing two different Santas was bewildering. Eventually I asked my father what Santa really looked like. Was he brown, like us? Or was he really a white guy?”

“My father replied that Santa was every color. Whatever house he visited, jolly old St. Nicholas magically turned into the likeness of the family that lived there.”

As time went on, this explanation became unsatisfactory to Harris:

“Two decades later, America is less and less white, but a melanin-deficient Santa remains the default in commercials, mall casting calls, and movies. Isn’t it time that our image of Santa better serve all the children he delights each Christmas?”

“Yes, it is. And so I propose that America abandon Santa-as-fat-old-white-man and create a new symbol of Christmas cheer. From here on out, Santa Claus should be a penguin.”

Megyn Kelly offered a reaction on her Fox News program.

“I mean, Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That’s verifiable fact, as is Santa. I just want the kids watching to know that. 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?”

The comments set off a media explosion. Kelly defended herself by claiming her words were intended as satire:

“Humor is a part of what we try to bring to this show but sometimes that is lost on the humorless … For me, the fact that an offhand jest I made during a segment about whether Santa should be replaced by a penguin has now become a national firestorm says two things. Race is still an incredibly volatile issue in this country, and Fox News, and yours truly are big targets for many people.”

Since Kelly mentioned Jesus while talking about Santa, the skin color of Christ got dragged into an already tense controversy.

Says Kelly, ‘I also did say Jesus was white. As I’ve learned in the past two days, that is far from settled.”

Jonathan Merritt of The Atlantic agrees.

“The myth of a white Jesus is one with deep roots throughout Christian history. As early as the Middle Ages and particularly during the Renaissance, popular Western artists depicted Jesus as a white man, often with blue eyes and blondish hair. Perhaps fueled by some Biblical verses correlating lightness with purity and righteousness and darkness with sin and evil, these images sought to craft a sterile Son of God.”

“As some historians and theologians have posited, the silence of the Scriptures on the issue of Jesus’ skin color is critical to Christianity’s broad appeal with people of various ethnicity. In a world where race often divides communities and even churches, the Biblical depictions of God’s son positions him as one who can bridge those divides.”

Jamelle Bouie of the Daily Beast also chimed in with an article entitled, Yes Megyn Kelly, Santa Can Be Black and Jesus Too.

“In general, When Christians have visualized Jesus, they’ve done so in their own context. Ethiopian Christians, for instance, depicted Christ — and other biblical figures — as Ethiopians. Likewise, Coptic Christians in Egypt depicted Jesus as Egyptian, and Chinese Christians in the 19th century imagined Jesus as Chinese.

“Kelly’s not wrong to say that Santa Claus is European — that’s his heritage. But there’s little chance that Jesus is white, and asserting otherwise is just as ludicrous as the declaration — made by some Christians — that Jesus spoke the early modern English of the King James Bible. At best, the assertion of Jesus’ whiteness reflects ignorance. At worst, it’s a sign of racial prejudice.”

The sanctimonious lecture is probably unnecessary. It is unlikely Kelly meant “white” in a literal sense. In all likelihood, she was using the term the exact same way as many African-Americans, namely that Jesus was not of African descent or other groups (Asian, Hispanic) commonly dubbed “people of color.”

A lot of individuals today with darker complexions are still designated “white.” Was Kelly suggesting that Jesus is light skinned or merely pointing out that she understands his ancient Israelite nationality?

Bouie himself acknowledges the part of the world Jesus came from, making the title of his article sound like nonsense.

Bringing Jesus into a discussion about Santa’s skin color confuses the conversation by comparing apples with oranges. Although there once was a real St. Nicholas, the man’s existence spawned a legend and the legend has morphed into many forms over the centuries.

From country to country, the heroic figure has had different functions and different titles. In England, for example, the name was Father Christmas.

Even the idea of Santa flying with reindeer is only as old as an 1823 poem by Clement Moore entitled “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (commonly called “The Night Before Christmas”).

Meanwhile, the pictorial image of jolly old Santa comes courtesy of the Coca Cola company.

It is harmless for people to envision a myth any way they prefer. Although there is no valid reason for objecting to a mythological person being of a particular color and no reason why a black child should feel threatened or cheapened by a white Santa Claus, neither is there anything wrong with portraying Santa as black.

Jesus, on the other hand, is not a myth or a legend. He is a real historical figure who existed and was executed under Pontius Pilate in 33 AD. The Bible may be silent about His appearance, but it is not silent about His nationality. The man was Jewish, from the tribe of Judah with Israelite ancestry. He lived in Galilee while growing up.

Certainly people from that part of the world have darker skin than the common depiction in many European, white, blond pictures of Jesus.

Nevertheless, the man was not an African. Stating as much means nothing more than the articulation of a fact.

In any event, those who truly follow Jesus and accept His forgiveness of sin, do not care what color His skin was. Followers of Christ would be loyal to their beliefs whether Jesus was white, black, or purple poke-a-dot. Had he been African, that would have been fine. It’s just that this is not the way it happened to be. Saying so does not make you a racist. It merely makes you somebody who prefers truth to political correctness.

But there’s another observation to be made while discussing the skin color of both Jesus and Santa. If these mountain-out-of-molehill offenses and concerns are dominating our conversation, if people must now hunt for racism behind every partridge in a pair tree, perhaps that’s because real racism is harder to find these days. Ironically, this very conversation serves as an indicator that true racism is behind Americans for the most part.

Naturally real honest-to-goodness racists still exist in some places and always will, but our country abolished both slavery and Jim Crow laws long ago.

America also elected its first African-American President. Doesn’t this speak volumes?

Even Obama’s most vocal critics are not concerned about his skin color but rather his incompetent foreign policy and dishonest domestic policy which seeks to redistribute wealth under the mask of “health care.” They are still accused of racist motives for objecting to Obama, but many of these very same people supported Herman Cain prior to the Republican primaries of 2012 so the charge is baseless.

People should be free to express their politics, follow their religion, or celebrate a legendary holiday character without race being constantly hammered into the conversation. Maybe then, we can realize Martin Luther King’s dream of a colorless society.

I would say “lighten up” but somebody would undoubtedly view that as a racist comment.

What’s next? Should the song “White Christmas” be banned?

This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious obvious.

Bob Siegel is a radio talk show host and columnist. Information about his radio show can be found at

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Bob Siegel

A graduate of Denver Seminary and San Jose State University, Bob Siegel is a radio talk show host and popular guest speaker at churches and college campuses across the country, using a variety of media including, seminars, formal debates, outdoor open forums, and one man drama presentations.

In addition to his own weekly radio show (KCBQ 1170, San Diego) Bob has been a guest on many other programs, including The 700 Club, Washington Times Radio's Inside the Story, The Rick Amato Show, KUSI Television's Good Morning San Diego, and the world popular Jonathan Park radio drama series, for which Bob guest starred in two episodes and wrote one episode, The Clue From Ninevah.

Bob is a regular contributor for San Diego Newsroom and San Diego Rostra. Bob does a good deal of playwriting as well (14 plays & 5 collaborations), including the award winning, Eternal Reach.  Bob has also published two books;  A Call To Radical Discipleship, and I'd Like to Believe In Jesus, But...

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