The color of Santa’s skin — though a hotly debated topic among adults this week — pretty much means bupkis to the kids mobbing Kris Kringle at a Hyattsville mall.
That red suit means loot. And it basically ends right there.
“I’m just excited to see him, and I want him to bring me some doll babies,” Dae’Lese, 6, said as she waited in line at the Mall at Prince Georges, which features one of the region’s few African American Santas. But his race wasn’t what brought Dae’Lese and her mom, Masche Williams, 26, to the mall.
“I don’t care if he’s yellow, black, green. And she doesn’t care — she’s so excited to see him because he brings toys,” Williams said.
I took my two blond-haired, pink-cheeked children to this mall Santa, a light-complexioned black man with the requisite white beard and hearty laugh. Would they notice his race?
Nope. They didn’t hesitate or comment. They climbed on his knees, smiled for the camera elves and ticked off their wish lists. Their voluminous wish lists.
Okay, their pure, naked greed was embarrassing. But I felt a sense of relief that, unlike Megyn Kelly of Fox News, my children and the other kids in line weren’t fixated on Santa’s skin color. In our amazingly diverse region, they don’t feel any need to declare Santa white. Or any other race or ethnicity.
But the debate does raise an interesting question: Should we rotate Santas on that mall throne to fit our increasingly colorful world? Latino Santa a las dos, Korean Santa until four, then the Senegalese Santa comes.
I spent days trying to find out if these versions of Santa exist. At casting agencies, Santa sourcers said they rarely get ethnically or racially specific requests. I called Latino and Hispanic associations all over the region to see where the best Spanish-speaking Santa could be found.
“Huh. I don’t know of any. But that’s a good business opportunity,” said Michel Zajur, chief executive of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber is aggressive in promoting and linking Latino mentors with kids across the state so they can see success defined by people who look like them. But when it comes to Santa?
“It’s not like anyone wants to grow up to be Santa,” Zajur said.
The guy at the Korean American Association basically hung up on me when I asked about a Santa representing the large Korean population in our region.
“Sorry, we got cut off,” he said when I called him back. “I’ve never heard of anything like that, but I’ll call you back.” He never did.
The Mall at Prince Georges deliberately recruits an African American Santa. I asked him whether he believes there is a special spark in the eye of African American children who see a bit of themselves in his face.
“My contract says I can’t talk. You have to clear it with the management,” he said.
Management didn’t want to be dragged into the Santa controversy, but marketing director Victoria Clark said people come from all over specifically to see a black Santa.
“This year, we had someone come from New Jersey just to see him,” she said.
Almost all of the parents in the Santa line I talked to said they came to the mall because it’s close to their homes, not because they were looking specifically for a black Santa.
At Landmark Mall in Alexandria, the parents hanging around Santa’s throne were as diverse as our area. Going down the line, I talked to a mom from Guatemala, one from Saudi Arabia, a dad from Ethiopia and a mom from South Korea.
Only the Ethiopian dad — who remembers seeing Ethiopian Santas in the big cities back home — would consider the skin color of Santa.
And for Kholood Alkhamis, 32, who grew up in Saudi Arabia? “Santa is red and white. Red suit, white beard.” Santa didn’t come to her house growing up, but she’s fine with her child having a Santa — no matter what color — in her life.
Santa didn’t come to my childhood home, either. Yes, it was probably about that naughty list. But in my Czech culture, gifts came from Jezisek, or the infant Jesus, who didn’t need a sleigh to fly through a snowstorm carrying all those toys!
The basic concept was the same as Santa. There was this magical thing that happens when you’re good. And you know how great it feels to get all that stuff? You learn that you have that magical power, too. And slowly, it becomes about giving.
And whether that lesson is taught by a white guy, a brown guy or an infant, it really doesn’t matter. Because eventually, it becomes about much more than toys!
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.