Fear of a Black Santa

12.23.13 Amy K. Nelson

There is a black Santa Claus at the Macy’s on 34th Street, but you won’t find him if you just follow the crowd to the 8th Floor Santaland exhibit to wait in line for the white one. That is because Macy’s doesn’t reveal black Santa’s location the way they do the white Santa. It’s not advertised in any newspapers or even on their website in very small print next to an asterisk. Inside the dizzying Santaland maze, the walls are adorned with traditional (white) Christmas scenes: 50s era paintings of kids ice skating, snow-covered bridges, maps of Santa’s route and everything coated with an idyllic white winter wonderland sheen. There is zero evidence the black Santa even exists.

Even when I finally arrive at the North Pole (total waiting time on Thursday morning: 45 minutes) there are no signs pointing toward the Special Santa room, just an overeager, exuberant elf to take you to Santa Claus’s lodge as he awaits your arrival onto his lap.

When I asked White Santa if there was a Special Santa, he deflected. “Well that’s me,” he said. “I’m the special Santa, the everyday Santa, the good-looking Santa, the ugly Santa … to everybody.” He stayed in character throughout.

After being ushered out of Santaland by other elves and into a line where you wait to view photos taken with your Santa (and pay $20 for a 6×10 digital print) I asked another friendly elf if he could help me see the “special” Santa. “You need to ask an elf, in the maze,” he told me, then descended into Santaland himself to ask for me. About five minutes later, an official-looking woman not dressed as an elf brought me to another lodge (there looked as if there could be as many as three or four different lodges), where a toddler-aged black girl and her black mother were wrapping up their time with a black Santa Claus.

There never was anyone in line behind me to see the special Santa and it was unclear how this woman in front of me knew how to request the black Santa (other black and Latino people were seen visiting his white counterpart). When they were done, I sat on black Santa’s lap and asked him if he was the special one, whether Santa is black or white or just Santa, and that’s when black Santa told me there’s “just one Santa.”

I told black Santa that Megyn Kelly seems to think otherwise. He said he had heard of the Fox News host, then added, “but Santa hasn’t had much time to sit down and watch TV.”

Concerned by my questions and the presence of a video cameraman, an older white man in a suit stepped into the room. He said we needed to go through Macy’s publicity department in order to shoot video, and then he followed us out the door of Santaland until we arrived at the photo processing center. (Even if I did contact, Macy’s PR flacks before our visit, store policy is to not acknowledge its odd treatment of black Santa anyway, “it’s not Macy’s policy to have Santa speak about race or religion.”)

As I waited in line to print my photos with Santa, showcased on a shelf, like a makeshift Wall of Fame for Santaland, were over a dozen photos of children and adults posing with him. They were all with white Santas.

(Video: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)