Updated: December 21, 2013 10:32AM
Is Santa Claus white? Sorry, Virginia, wrong question.
Before you lapse into an eggnog-induced post-Christmas coma, ponder the Claus Conundrum.
Ask the wrong question, and you’ll get the wrong answer.
Is Santa Claus the spirit of devoted love that symbolizes our most cherished holiday and, in fact, might be any race just as an angel might seem to be any race?
The current kerfuffle over the designated racial grouping for Santa Claus — thanks to the towers of intellectual power at Fox News — is just the sort of misplaced, vacuous preening for which our culture deserves its self-loathing.
Let’s turn to our panel of Santa experts to get to the bottom of this. These people get paid to do this. Really.
And what racially variant hue is the spirit of joy required to be?
Apparently, many believe there is a right answer to this question and the answer is Caucasian. Coca-Cola ads star a white Santa, and Coke could not lie to us.
A contrived (in the best sense of the word) spiritual character must be white or else the joy apparently does not count.
This debate actually demonstrates that we are being trained to surrender our minds one stupid idea at a time. It’s subtle. But before we can judge any person real or fictional, we must identify their race. Because that tells us if the person hails from inside our tribe or is a stranger from across the ocean.
We all have Christmas gatherings that include an ancient uncle who sees the world through that lens. “I don’t care if person is purple or green or black….but….”
So, Virginia, let’s talk Santa. In the most genial translation of Santa we can construct, here is what rational people can rationally accept.
Santa Claus is an idea. A figment. A dream.
He’s a very good idea that often gets mislaid by commercial urgency. But the basic idea of Santa endures because his motives are clean and honest.
Santa is we at our very best. The “us” we wish we were more often.
He is the character strength in us that seeks a joyful life for children by invoking the dancing brightness in their eyes. Time enough for adulthood and its dubious usefulness.
Santa is a gift we give our children. He’s an oasis that has no need for rational explanation or even rules. It’s candy and bright lights. If we are smart enough, we hug our children more at Christmas. They always want to hug us more, but we give more of ourselves as parents now.
In fact, the joy of our children is a present we give to ourselves. We let Santa stand in for us.
But mostly Santa is a fictional character we invented for our own reasons, most of which are good reasons. We can love Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer without demanding they be real people.
Our homo sapiens-based symbols all tend to look like us. We admire what we know. And since most American symbols were invented before black people and brown people were allowed to express their own opinions and views, then the pantheon cast is usually white.
We didn’t invent Santa Claus, but we got to paint him. Maybe it’s why Santa is a man.
The group with the paint and brushes decides history.
Santa is white mostly because white people were in charge of advertising. Political power may be seized at the point of a sword, but cultural self-image is a product of paint. Pigment rules pigment.
Have you not wondered why classic religious paintings from the Middle Ages envision Jesus as a Florentine shopkeeper with slightly longer-than-normal hair? We believe what our art tell us.
Proof? Pick out a crowd of 100 men from a Damascus boulevard and check how they look. Nobody from Salt Lake City in that group. That was the cultural hood where Jesus originated.
Europeans had the paint, brushes and canvases. In fact the original St. Nicholas was a bishop from Asia Minor in southern Turkey and was much more likely dark-skinned.
But so what? Whatever real debate there is about anyone’s race, the existence of that argument is wasted energy.
Santa is a gentle, loving light.
No one owns Santa Claus, except children. His light was invented for them.
David Rutter was an editor at six community newspapers more than 40 years, including nearly a decade as managing editor of the Post-Tribune. His column appears Sundays in the Post-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org