The Color of Christmas

By Katy Moore
Managing Director of Corporate Strategy
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers 

Over the Christmas break, my sister and I left the kids with grandma and headed out for a fun evening of “sip and paint” – a step-by-step painting class accompanied by the adult beverage of your choice. Our subject was Santa Claus.

As a bit of background, I grew up in Natchitoches, Louisiana – home of one of the largest Christmas festivals and light displays in the South. Many of the town’s residents – including many of my family members – collect some sort of Christmas paraphernalia (Santas, snowmen, nutcrackers, ornaments, etc). When my aunts saw my Facebook post from the painting class, they all requested Santa paintings to add to their collections. Being the dutiful niece that I am – and since I LOVE having time to be creative (thanks grandma!) – I got to work. Over the course of the next few hours, I created a HUGE 4’ x 5’ Santa for my mom and three smaller works for my aunts. I then had a total of 5 Santa paintings, including my original sip-and-paint work.

As I gazed at my Santas, feeling quite accomplished, I remembered that Tamara also collected Santas – black Santas. As I recalled her recent post What Color is Santa? from her personal “Daughters of the Dream” blog, I wondered if I could paint a black person… I’d never tried.

When I googled “Black Santa” in search of some inspiration, there was a dearth of options, and many of the images were offensive and/or had been turned into hateful memes (so much for Christmas spirit!). Now determined, I challenged myself to create a beautiful black Santa to add to the image bank. As I looked at my paint pallet, I wasn’t even sure where to begin. The “flesh tone” (the paint tube literally said “flesh”) and rosy hues I had been using wouldn’t work for this Santa. After studying dozens of black faces online, I began painting. My first attempt looked too blue. My second attempt looked too ruddy. Finally, after much tweaking, I had a black Santa I was reasonably happy with.

A few days later, a few friends dropped by before New Years. Two of my Santas sat side-by-side on the mantel – my original white sip-and-paint Santa and my newly painted black Santa. One friend asked, “Is that a black Santa?” “Yay! I nailed it,” I responded. And then, after telling the story of how my black Santa came to be, a deeper discussion ensued about what color Santa is and/or should be – a fascinating, rich, and enlightening debate! Everyone agreed that the black Santa was just as beautiful as white Santa. In fact, the longer we looked at them side-by-side the more we agreed that Santa – that jolly, fictional character who embodies the generous spirit of Christmas – should be a reflection of us all, no matter our color.