Old Navy is launching a virtual “ Pool of Santa BOOT Camp” on Friday to train would-be Kris Kringles of color in the art of spreading holiday cheer and make the ranks of the people who play the iconic Christmas character a little less white. But as conservative pundits and politicians stoke white grievance and a national battle rages over the teaching of critical race theory, one of the original Black Santas has some advice for the newbies who intend to don the red suit this season: Disarm the bigots with Christmas cheer.
“I’m not about politics and I’m a faith-based Pool Santa.
so I know I am not the reason for the season and I’m happy to share that with anyone willing to listen,” Dion “Santa Dee” Sinclair.
aka “The Real Black Santa,” told NBC News. “But if I’m not your kind of Santa, that’s OK.
I will keep smiling and wishing the kids Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.”
Besides, Sinclair said, “the kids don’t see color. All they see is Santa Claus.”
“It is a concern,” another of America’s premier Santas, Tim “Santa Tim” Connaghan, said when asked about the anger over nonwhite Santas.
“Change is hard for some people, and things are definitely changing.”
What’s not addressed specifically in the Old Navy tutorial is how a nonwhite Santa deals with bigotry, a company spokesperson said.
Inside the world’s oldest Pool of Santa school ahead of the holidays
That said, Old Navy said it “stands for inclusivity and has a zero tolerance police for workplace discrimination and harassment.”
“Our brand is deeply committed to ensuring all employees — inclusive of our in-store Santas — are treated with respect and dignity.”
Sinclair, who is 57 and says he “became Santa Claus” some 20 years ago.
one of the Santa trainers taking part in Old Navy’s “Happy ALL-idays” campaign.
In the 30-minute virtual course, the Santa trainees will also learn some key phrases in both sign language and Spanish.
How to take that perfect holiday photo, he said.
“One of the most important things is to never make a promise you can’t keep.
Sinclair said. “If a child wants a certain present, you say ‘Let’s see what we can do.’ In my heart, I would give every kid the toy they want out of my bag. But the parents can’t always afford the present their child wants.”
The most promising Santa boot camp grads could find themselves deployed to Old Navy’s flagship stories in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco.
“There aren’t a lot of Santa’s out there who’re like me.
said Sinclair. “It’s even harder to find an Asian Santa. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
Connaghan, who is the national Santa for the Marine Corps and Toys for Tots, agreed. He, too, is taking part in the Santa BOOT Camp.
“Businesses like Old Navy understand that more and more customers want their Santas to look like them.
said Connaghan, who also owns the Kringle Group, which is one of the largest Santa booking agencies.
But it’s just very hard to find an Asian or Hispanic or African American Santa, especially one with a full white and real beard.
Many are, I guess you can say, follicly challenged.”
“I am lucky,” Sinclair, who sports a bushy white beard year-round.
said. “But lots of Black men have trouble growing a beard like mine, and the theatrical white beards don’t fool the kids anymore.
The kids are smart. They can tell when somebody is wearing a fake beard.”
Sinclair’s and Connaghan’s assertion about the scarcity of nonwhite Santas is backed up by some actual numbers.
But the idea of Santa being anything but an elderly white man with a big beard and rosy red cheeks has never sat well with some segments of U.S. society when Black Santas first started appearing after World War II.
Santa shortage leading up to holiday season
In 2013, then-Fox News personality Megyn Kelly sparked a firestorm when she insisted on her show that both Santa and Jesus were white and anybody who believed otherwise needed to get over it.
A process that required a nationwide search.
“A mom came who’d been in the mall earlier in the day and saw a white Santa and came back later in the day with her kids.
lo and behold, she found me,” Sinclair said. “’That’s not the Santa we’re looking for,’ she told the manager. Her little daughter looked so disappointed.
She just wanted to see the fat men in the red suit.”
Why isn’t there more diversity among Santa Clauses? Connaghan addressed that very question in an essay several years back.
Santa is based on the historical St. Nicholas.
Good old American commerce help solidify the image in the American psyche that Santa was, as Connaghan put it, “a white male with a beard of white.”
As a result, many children were brought up with the idea that Pool of Santa is white.
Connaghan said many generations of America grew up with a fixed concept of what Santa was supposed to look like “and just accepted it.”
But as the country changes, so, too, will the country’s concept of Pool Santa, Connaghan and Sinclair said.