The Megyn Kelly saga got me thinking about Santa Claus as a brand. In case you missed it, Kelly, an anchor on FoxNews, created a firestorm last week when she made statements that Santa and Jesus are/were white. She claims her remarks were a tongue-in-cheek reaction to a piece in Slate by an African-American writer and people should lighten up. African-Americans took umbrage to the whole thing, which led to more talking heads, editorials, etc.
Let’s put aside the whole debate about whether Santa is “real”. There has been a historical image of Santa as a white man, which probably originated with St. Nicholas, who lived in current-day Turkey in the fourth century and appears to be white in most paintings. Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus as a white man and that became the basis for most Santa depictions in the U.S. from that point on.
But so much has changed from the original story of St. Nicholas to what we now know as Santa Clause. Different European cultures added flourishes, including his mode of transportation. So does it really matter what race he is? If blacks want to perceive him as black or Hispanics want to view him as Hispanic or Asians want to perceive him as Asian, who cares? Or if some people don’t want to perceive him as a him, who cares?
You probably don’t have to go too far beyond your family and friends to find various perceptions about what Santa does. Some don’t want to set up their children for disappointment so they tell the kids from an early age that Santa doesn’t exist and that presents are just exchanged between people. Others instill that Santa brings all the presents (really tough to keep everything concealed until Christmas Eve) and others come down somewhere in the middle with Santa existing but bringing just a few things if the kids have been good. He might enter a home through the chimney, a fire escape or a door.
With this wide range of thoughts and beliefs about what Santa does or doesn’t do, why can’t we have different images of the jolly old elf? And why not a number of Santas to lighten the load? Just because Thomas Nast drew what became the typecast for Santa back in the 1860s, doesn’t mean that is how everyone has to view Santa. Why not thin or young or more of a spirit?
Until Santa hires a branding firm, an image consultant and a PR rep, we can define Santa as we want and picture him/her as we want (or not at all). So this is one time when I will break one of my central tenets of branding and lobby for inconsistency in the Santa image. Or maybe a different consistency based less on physical appearance and more on what Santa represents: Giving to those we love and sharing with those less fortunate than us. I hope that is the Santa brand that we all can believe in!
Best wishes for safe and restful holidays, and a happy and healthy 2014!