Is it really time for a penguin Santa?

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

I always find it funny when people claim that an image of Christ appeared in their tortilla or the mildew on their bathroom wall, because these images invariably look like the imagined Christ from 15th century northern European paintings.  At a guess, Christ was dark (Semitic looking) not fair, but everything else is unknown and, in this life, unknowable.

The intersection between pop culture and actual history (known and unknown) has now hit Christmas:  a black gal thinks it’s time for Santa to be de-humanized into a black-and-white penguin so that no particular racial group in America feels slighted by that embarrassingly white Santa we currently have.

My feeling is that, if that gal wants to market a line of black-and-white Santa penguins, more power to her, and I hope she profits from her efforts.  St. Nick was born a Greek, and was almost certainly neither black nor white himself (probably just swarthy).  He would surely be as amused about a penguin Santa, as he would be about his American incarnation as a fat, red-clothed, white-bearded white man who drives a flying sleigh and slides down chimneys.

Penguin in Santa hat


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  1. Charles Martel says

    The panda is a racist symbol because it excludes people of brown, people of yellow, and people of red. The animal’s patches of pure white fur are a nice nod to albinos, but diss people of pink (aka “white people”). Probably the only people who could be satisfied with the panda are the Dravidians of India, an almost-black people who, ahem, are classified as Caucasians.

  2. Caped Crusader says

    Everybody knows that Santa Claus is white. I have personally seen him several times at Macy’s and at even at Goldsmith’s prior to Macy purchasing the local store. I have also personally seen him in the Stanford Mall in CA, and have pictures of him holding my grandchildren; all beaming with pleasure. In 1962, while on active duty, I was the ship’s doctor on an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean. We received an emergency message from Santa that an elf was seriously injured while building toys. The pilot and I got in the helicopter and flew to the North Pole where we administered  emergency medical care and and med-evaced him to Point Barrow for hospitalization. The elf recovered and was returned to Santa’s Village where he continues to make toys ’til today. The pilot and I get a Christmas card from him every year thanking us for our help long ago. An elf doesn’t age, as you know, so they do not have to worry about repetitive stress injuries from over work; and they are lovely, handsome, happy, cheerful little creatures, from whose attitudes we could learn a great deal.

    Also, since there are 6 months of darkness at the North Pole in the winter if Santa were not white and wearing a bright red suit with brilliant white trim piping, Rudolph might not be able to find him, get the sleigh loaded, the reindeer fed, and take off through the sky to visit all children who celebrate Christmas throughout the world.
    I hope you noticed I said Santa’s Village. That is because Santa, being a loving and jolly old man, who never ages, is trying to adapt to the times since the world is trying to go PC, he does not want ANY children to feel let out or shunned; so in this village he has a training school for Santa’s of all colors who, being his approved helpers, may deliver your gifts as per your parents request.

    I hope this ends any speculation as to the identity of the REAL ORIGINAL SANTA, since I am an eye witness!

  3. Caped Crusader says

    And the people who are now trying to sell us on global warming were attempting to sell us on a new ice age, but strangely they did not recommend we burn more fossil fuel in an attempt to warm up the planet! Try to figure that out!

  4. Gringo says

    Which reminds me of the story a school librarian of the Jewish faith told me. She was the librarian at a 98% Hispanic elementary school. One December she selected a book to read to students about Christmas, a book which mentioned that Christmas was celebrated as Christ’s birthday.
    To her surprise, she found out that the Hispanic students thought that Christmas was all about Santa Claus.
    Is that funny, or is that sad?
    I vote for sad.

  5. Charles Martel says

    “And the people who are now trying to sell us on global warming were attempting to sell us on a new ice age.”
    And now they’re getting ready to sell us again on an ice age:
    Oceania is at war with East Asia. Oceania has always been at war with East Asia.
    Oceania is at war with Eurasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

  6. jj says

    The Christ thing has always been amusing.  Thanks to Medieval painters we far too often get a blondish, blue eyed, tall and slim fellow with freshly washed hair.  (Who looks just like a potato chip I ate last Sunday…)  Or Jeffrey Hunter.  The reality was likely to be a “swarthy little Hebe” (Lenny Bruce’s words) who barely made it to 5’5″ with hair clipped pretty short – as most people do not know that most people had at that time and in that place – to try and get a grip on the lice and fleas.  Which just means that everything we think know about him physically, every mental image we conjure when we hear the name, is wrong.  (Getting things exactly wrong is sort of routine for the human race.  Abraham Lincoln didn’t sound like Charlton Heston or even Daniel Day-Lewis either: he inclined to squeak.)
    But Christ is an object of worship for about a third of the world’s population – figuring that there are a billion Catholics, and maybe as much as a billion other kinds of variously assorted Christians.  To try to change what they worship isn’t likely to be a useful exercise, even in the name of not making non-white Europeans feel comfortable.  Jesus Christ is a European construct, so he isn’t going to look like he came from Zaire.  The fact that he’s been widely accepted by a lot of people who actually live in Zaire is a bit tough, I suppose, for the young lady’s argument, but nobody requires her to worship much of anything.  We are not Muslims after all, demanding that you bow down before a rock!  Or we’ll kill you.
    The panda’s a particularly poor choice, too, I happen to think.  98% of the world never heard of panda’s until less than a century ago, their back-story as symbolic of something other than paranoid isolation is mostly non-existent.  Though related to the beaver they’re widely assumed to be bears of a kind, and we don’t want people going around speculating about whether or not Jesus sh**s in thew woods, do we? 
    I think a paperclip would be a much better symbol.  It’s cheap, readily available to all, brings things together, can be bent into endlessly adaptable shapes to do a thousand other things than it was intended to do, and is recyclable.  If you feel in need of a symbol to worship, it’s difficult to beat.  Pandas?  What the hell is that?  No, no – paperclips every time!

  7. Libby says

    I think the people who fret over Santa’s ethnicity and the potential offense/exclusion someone, somewhere *might* feel if he continues to be depicted as a white dude are the same ones who get all up in arms over things like toy ads that show girls playing with an Easy Bake Oven and boys playing with Nerf guns. Not even a first world problem, this is a problem with people having too much times on their hands and/or too much race/gender/grievance studies training.
    How about she celebrate however she likes & these agitators give the rest of us a break from all of these great (fake) public offenses that must be remedied.

  8. KellyM says

    As Libby Says. Way too much time on her hands.
    Growing up Catholic (and still am) I didn’t give much thought to the Euro-centric depictions of Jesus. There’s plenty of room to debate whether Raphael or Giotto or El Greco got it right. LOL Even now I don’t get too worked up over it.  I don’t think other Catholics do, either. Frankly I always thought a person to be rather needy in getting all worked up over something like this.  If an artist wishes to render Him with more Sephardic features, go for it. I was always more interested in the many and varied stories/depictions of saints’ lives and their martyrdoms. 
    As for a penguin Santa? Again, ho hum. As long as the penguin comes with a bottle opener built into the bottom I’m all for it. 

  9. Michael Adams says

    Nicholas may not have even been all that swarthy.  He lived in Asia Minor, spoke Greek, for sure, but that part of the world had been populated by Greeks, who had red and sometimes blond hair, in the time of Socrates, and by various Indo Europeans from further north and east.
    The part abut the chimney was that Nicholas had developed a habit about throwing a bag of gold through the windows of  girls too poor to afford a dowry. There was one father who closed and bolted the windows. (Too proud, a little sick and got off on the idea of selling his daughters into slavery? Ai, quien sabe?) So old Nick climbed up to the roof and dropped his three bags of gold down the chimney. Now, I thought that chimneys were not invented until the twelfth century, so maybe it was just the smoke hole? In any case, a bag of gold, later morphed into a gold ball, is the symbol of St Nicholas, who is the patron saint of pawnbrokers, which is why they have three brass balls outside of pawn shops, to let illiterates know what sort of business is done there. 
    Nicholas was elected Bishop before he had even been ordained a priest, so reputed he was for piety, which is always most clearly shown by charity.
    Jolly old Nicholas, not yet promoted to Saint, attended the council of Nicea, which was not convened to deal with Gnosticism, a dead letter by then, but with Arianism. Nicholas got so incensed at the attitude copped by Arius (A mathematician, natch.)that he walked across the assembly hall and punched him in the nose, giving rise to the injunction, “You better watch out, Santa Claus is comin’ to town.”

  10. Eidolon says

    Wouldn’t a logical extension of this principle be to picture the various white Europeans who advanced culture and science as being black? Maybe make some of the disproportionately male scientists and mathematicians into women?
    It seems to me that this is only an extension of the same principle. If the idea is “since we can depict them however we want we should make them black,” then what about dead people? Who’s going to stop us from depicting them however? I guess people can’t feel kinship with anyone not of their race. Maybe in the future when you look people up, your computer will just automatically make their race and sex match yours so you can always feel good and relate to them.

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