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In Theory: Do the central figures of Christmas have a race?

December 28, 2013

Earlier this month a controversy arose after a tongue-in-cheek column written by Aisha Harris, a woman of color, was published online at Slate.com, suggesting maybe it’s time that Santa Claus is no longer depicted as a white man.

A Fox news host, Megyn Kelly, commenting on air about the Harris column, caused a firestorm by saying Santa is most certainly white and that Jesus is too. After many expressed outrage at Kelly’s comments, she later said that she, like Harris, had simply been making tongue-in-cheek observations and that her critics just don’t have a sense of humor.

This seasonal brouhaha has us wondering: Does it matter what race Santa or Jesus is? Tell us your thoughts.

Saint Nicholas was a Greek man who was also known as Nikolaos of Myra. He was a historic 4th-century Christian saint and bishop. “Santa Claus” comes from Dutch versions of his name and title. Regional and cultural traditions about his activity since then have widely varied. I believe the way Americans commonly picture him, race, clothing and all, is derived from vintage Coca-Cola advertising. So there’s the historic man and there’s the ongoing tradition of Santa.

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We can’t change history, but we can alter tradition. If Santa’s skin darkens over the years or changes with each household, that’s fine. We didn’t do Santa with our kids. We always had a tongue-in-cheek “Barta Claus” who was a Czech and came from Iowa. Our kids have done just fine.

It absolutely matters what race Jesus Christ is. Jesus’ father was God himself and his mother was a Jewish virgin named Mary. God promised Abraham, a Semitic man, that through his physical descendants “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Jesus’ earthly Semitic heritage is the story of God’s grace in choosing a particular people to be his, and through them drawing all others to Him as well. I completely understand the desire to depict Jesus as a member of our particular ethnicity, but we can all identify with him on an even deeper level. He took humanity upon himself and bore the sins of all humanity on the cross. “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
Burbank

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